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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Then There Were Two

Then There Were Two

Review by Bruce Stringer

Suzanne Vega bassist, Mike Visceglia, and Australian vocalist Fiona McBain have recorded a 10-track CD of covers re-arranged for bass guitar and vocals with some very interesting results. As a scaled down, two-piece act they are able to achieve a subtlety rarely heard on many of today’s recordings. Although Then There Were Two could hastily be placed within the coffee house format of inoffensive duos, they can easily traverse the ground between jazz, blues, folk and pop and then some. With their combined talents both technically and arrangement wise, McBain and Visceglia could well be defining the shape of musical acts to come!

This album has an interesting vibe to it and – without any derogative connotation – could be quite at home playing in your local Starbucks or that cool bookshop just around the corner. The album is “compact” enough to not overstay its welcome, at just over 36 minutes. The arrangement of vocals and bass may fall into a limited spectrum but there is so much going on musically that the marriage of the two instruments has an otherworldly chemistry. Ironically, this is made all the more interesting because Mike Visceglia is playing an electric bass as opposed to the jazz format of a double bass and Fiona McBain has a distinctive British vocal style.

If you are looking for a relaxing album to accompany a romantic dinner, or something to that you can put on while you’re reading that newly purchased novel, or – better still – an album to sit in and share the atmosphere with - then this is it.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mother Nature's Son
Visceglia’s bass work elevates his role into the fore and exposes the space between the vocals and fretwork in an almost haunting manner. Vocally, McBain could easily have been from the British folk school of Clannad or that of The Seekers. Her ability to plant herself firmly in the note and allow the reverb to create texture is exacting. In many ways it is the minimalist nature of this whole project that serves to deliver both sound quality and musicianship in an environment of serenity.

Ballad of the Sad Young Men
This being a more soulful rather than playful number, it is on tracks like this that there might otherwise be some pretext for spouting the originality of such a line-up. But there are no pretensions at work here. The music is creatively arranged and emotive, much of the performance is heartfelt (as goes for much of the album as a whole) which can deceive the listener into believing there is more instrumentation at play than what actually is – and this is the magic of Then There Were Two.

You Don't Know Me
Visceglia has a very interesting style that allows a direct crossover between blues and jazz on this number. There is less reverb in the mix, which illustrates some of the more intricate bass work and Ms. McBain sounds like she’s in the same room as the listener. There is a nice touch of harmonics throughout the bass solo that stand out. McBain and Visceglia draw to a close by the slowing of tempo in a naturally instinctive way.

Amelia
“Amelia” highlights the British folkiness of the vocal styling while the bass chords and plucked lower notes shift through changes with silky smoothness uncommon on a 4-string. The bass sound on the whole album is something to behold – crystal clear with definition, yet with a frequency spectrum that a listener could be forgiven was made of more than one instrument. McBain’s voice has been recorded so well that you can even hear her lips smack together as she does her best Marianne Faithful routine.

Four Seasons in One Day
Originally a Crowded House number, penned by the brothers Finn, this version has a lingering, almost haunting atmosphere to it. As there seems to be a trend to re-do classic hits in a more modest, scaled down manner this take on “Four Seasons In One Day” would have to be up there with the best of these revamped arrangements.

Skylark
Jazzy in nature, “Skylark” comes across as a staple of a great jazz album leaving behind the aforementioned folkiness. The round, 6/8 feel offers the dynamic duo an outlet for some interesting interplay. This gives the album a variance sadly lacking on many other albums that boast full band line-ups!

Into My Arms
Although I have never been a Nick Cave fan I do find it interesting that (a) a song of his could fit on a CD alongside tracks by Lennon & McCartney and Burt Bacharach, (b) one of his tracks could sound so subtle and inoffensive (as opposed to bordering on punk). Viscelglia and McBain have selected well and performed this song from the heart. The track seems to be one of the longer ones on the album and I think that even Mr. Cave himself would approve at this bass and vocal arrangement!

Don't Fade On Me
The lower bass register immediately grabs you as Mr. Visceglia takes you on an up-tempo walk through a reverberated forest of woody bass chords and bottom note plucking. McBain’s voice is very Clannad, which is surprising considering this is predominantly an American product but maybe this is why the union of one of New York’s finest bassists and one of Australia’s most unique singers works so well. Once again, the quality of the recording stands out with its spatial tension and moodiness.

Anyone Who Had a Heart
This classic Bacharach track (sung famously by Linda Ronstadt among others) sounds great with just Visceglia and McBain at the helm. Ms. McBain holds back a little and, at times, it appears that she is singing very quietly – maybe this is so that she is able to offer a more dynamic performance, maybe it’s a way of allowing her to fulfill the differing vocal ranges. Either way, this is one of this CD’s best.

Nature Boy
The haunting “Nature Boy” begins with some dissonance as McBain’s voice is spookily arranged over Visceglia’s tremolo picking. Although I was unfamiliar with this song before I received the CD, it has an uncanny resonance that is apt to the nature of the album and is a very short number. This makes it a haunting little teaser that forces the listener to get out of his / her chair and press the “play” button again. What a great way to end an album!

 
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