Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Album review: Sand and Stone by The McMenamins

What a delicious treat this album is - to be in such capable hands as those of sibling duo Fleur and Simon McMenamin that to listen to their songs feels like an invitation to lie back on a grassy slope in the sun and let oneself be carried along by these gentle, yet commanding, songs.

Fleur's voice fairly calls, 'Come closer to me, listen to what I'm telling you' - and it is hard to resist. By the fourth track, 'Moon Over Tamworth', I was ready to do away with plans for the rest of the week and just sit around listening to the album. I couldn't, of course, but it was a comfort to be able to carry these songs with me as I went about the daily routine of commute, work and everything else. The McMenamins' music is a companion, a relief and a reassurance - it offers succour but doesn't let the listener believe that it's anything other than intelligent, thoughtfully composed and played music.

This is music that draws from country, folk and traditional influences. It is spare, in that it comes mostly from two musicians - albeit musicians who can each wield a number of different instruments. An unembellished sound is only dangerous if the songs aren't up to scratch, and of course this does not apply to the McMenamins, who are now several albums into a distinguished career. Each song on Sand and Stone is a self-contained vignette that tells the listener a story without demanding that they drain themselves of all emotion to understand it. There is love - of family, of place, of life - slipping in between words and lodging itself in notes. Even on first listening it is tempting to laugh and cry through most of the songs, because they are poignant and strong, and they feel familiar without being at all wearisome. They sound almost like Fleur and Simon are sitting around my kitchen table telling me a story, but also like they belong in a grand venue with a hushed, rapt audience.

All of this makes Sand and Stone an unusual album - I can't think of a direct comparison for it, although I could identify a lineage if pressed. Yet there is something unique about the McMenamins' sound - that lineage may come, in part, from other lands, but this is an Australian album telling Australian stories in a very touching, accomplished way.

Sand and Stone is out now through MGM.

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