A married pair explore their relationship's dynamics. A singer takes a solo sojourn from the band she formed with her husband. And Hope Sandoval and Kurt Vile get together for an unexpectedly delightful duet.
You know how in old movies some kid would be spying on a young couple smooching and then scrunch up his face in disgust and say, “Oooh, mush?”
That kid would have a tough time with "Georgica Pond," the new album from Johnnyswim, the unabashedly romantic married duo of Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez. In the dreamy “In My Arms,” he sings to her, “I’m gonna love you like nobody will, under the rainbow and over the hill.” And she replies, “ 'Cause money can buy me a diamond that fades, but ours is a love story for every age, I’ll be the writer if you’ll be my page …” Later he sings, cooingly, in French!
Oooh, mush. Wonderful, wonderful mush. Duets in which they pledge devotion, examine their life together, the magic still there, even after a decade together. Even after writing and recording and touring together. Even after each experienced the death of a parent. Even after having had their first child last year.
That’s impressive enough. But what’s really impressive is that as mushy as it may be, it never gets gloppy.
Well, they do have some good role models. Marvin and Tammi. Peaches and Herb. Heck, even some Johnny and June or Sonny and Cher. They’re here in spirit, if not always specific sounds. "Georgica Pond" expands and extends the folk-soul-gospel blends of their 2014 full-album debut, "Diamonds," and nearly captures the magnetic chemistry known to anyone who has seen them in concert. There’s a naturalness to their interplay, equal parts spontaneous spark and confident craft.
Oh, and another role-model pair: The late Donna Summer and her husband, songwriter and musician Bruce Sudano — Amanda’s parents. Again, nothing here sounds like “Bad Girls,” let alone “I Feel Love.” But growing up with parents who had a collaborative musical marriage was clearly an inspiration to the daughter. And yeah, now and then you can hear some vocal similarities to her mother.
Like her folks, younger Sudano and Ramirez began their relationship with music, when she attended a songwriting workshop he ran in 2005 in Nashville, where they both lived. Romance came a little later. They married in 2009 and relocated to Los Angeles, where they made this album in the intimate setting of their home studio.
Johnnyswim (the name coming from how she as a child implored her late goldfish not to be dead) is not all valentines and roses: “My love can’t rescue you, the way you want it to,” she sings in “Rescue You.” There’s an ache to that admission, though, as there is in the desolation of “Lonely Night in Georgia,” a gospel/country-style duet, with Vince Gill (who co-wrote the song with them) on guitar and a full choir backing them up. Even “Drunks,” with its Lumineers-ish everyone-join-in chorus and its aspirational bent — “I want to write a song drunks all sing, and the sober sing along” — comes down to the core hope that it will be “our song,” the two of them.
Oh, and "Georgica Pond"? That, they have explained, is a place on Long Island where they stayed sometimes with Sudano’s mom, and where, now a few years since Summer’s death, the couple took their kid to visit. “One day when I’m gone, scatter my ashes on Georgica Pond,” Sudano sings. Mush. And much more.
We’ve got another collaborative married couple now. Well, half of one.
"I’m walking around in a haze and I feel you falling away from me,” sings Nataly Dawn in the lush, descriptively named title song of her new solo album, "Haze." Should we be concerned? She came to renown as half of Pomplamoose with husband Jack Conte. The Bay Area duo found viral hitdom via some amusing and at times unlikely covers — from “My Favorite Things” to “Single Ladies” to the “Angry Birds” theme — presented in playful videos of them multitracking instruments and Dawn’s layered vocal harmonies, at once delightful and precious. Sometimes, perhaps, too precious.
Not so here. "Haze" finds a smart balance of emotions (ruefulness and hope, for the most part) and sounds (the accomplished professionalism of Dawn’s 2013 album "How I Knew Her" and the DIY charm of "Pomplamoose"). Key is that where “How I Knew Her” was recorded in a full professional studio (with Conte producing) in a seemingly conscious step away from the "Pomplamoose" casualness. This one saw them (yes, he’s still around) back in the cozy comfort of home, freer to play around, and perhaps her feeling freer to explore her thoughts.
Opening song “I Could Lose” in its brief time moves from fragile, intimate acoustic guitar and voice to strings-enhanced confidence. “Orchid” touches on the pop playfulness that marks Pomplamoose’s covers, but with a dreamy cast. The home setting also, it seems, brought out an air of restless cabin fever, captured in what is the album’s killer song, “Waiting Room,” mixing a battle of anticipation and resignation.
“Every room,” Dawn sings, “is a waiting room.” Let’s hope we’re not meant to read too much into that.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions
OK, another couple to spotlight in our bonus tracks, but just a duet here, with Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star fame) teaming with Kurt Vile on “Let Me Get There,” from the former’s first album in seven years, "Until the Hunter." It’s a song full of sweet affection, sounding like a bit of a cross between Seals & Croft and Buffalo Springfield, which may be a little surprise to those who know Sandoval only from Mazzy’s murky, moody mystique. Such little surprises are part and parcel to her recordings with the Warm Inventions (which really is just her and My Bloody Valentine’s Colm O’Coisog, making the ampersand a bit confusing).
Nice touches pop up throughout the album as the overall tone moves from intimate, dusky folk to expansive desert psychedelia. The most delightful may be the simplest of them all: the hand claps that provide light percussion in the song “I Took a Slip.”
Not that she and he (and a few other friends who join in) have turned into the Angels or the early Beatles or anything. But those basic little, understated clapped beats put a joy into the song, even more so for being wrapped in strummed guitar, some space noises and desolate slide wails, not as contrasting juxtaposition or pop irony, but as spirited propulsion. Were they premeditated calculation or spontaneous exclamation? Doesn’t really matter, though it feels like the latter. Regardless, it’s a perfect and perfectly human touch.