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Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem: Violets Are Blue
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/18/2015)
This week we have the latest recording by a New England band who have been mixing it up stylistically for a decade and a half now. It’s Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, and their new album is called Violets Are Blue. The group formed in 2000 but Ms. Arbo’s collaboration with bassist/banjo player Andrew Kinsey goes back to 1991 when they were co-founders of Salamander Crossing, a widely acclaimed bluegrass band of the day. Arbo formed Daisy Mayhem to broaden the pallet of instrumentation, and instead of the usual bluegrass sounds, there were things like cello, Eastern instrumentation and a variety of homemade percussion instruments. And like most such acoustic groups, their previous recordings were essentially capturing a their live performance in the studio. For Violets Are Blue the band’s guitarist Anand Nayak says “We felt a desire to use the studio as an instrument a little bit more.” So while the sound has an acoustic quality, this recording has more sonic textures, and a lot more electric guitar than on the previous albums, along with some atmospheric steel guitar. And the group’s collection of different percussion instruments they call “Drumship Enterprise” remains a distinctive part of their sound.
The personnel remains intact, with songwriter, vocalist and fiddler Rani Arbo, her husband percussionist Scott Kessel, guitarist Amand Nayak and bassist Andrew Kinsey. All contribute to the vocals with several pieces featuring one of the guys on lead vocals. As has been the case in the past, the material is a mix of original music plus a number of covers, mostly rather obscure songs by other folkies. Daisy Mayhem has been known for their imaginative treatments of traditional songs, but this one is more along the lines of an eclectic singer-songwriter album. The band describes a writing spurt that Ms. Arbo had that yielded several of the songs on this new release.
The album opens with one of those new original pieces by Ms. Arbo, Heart of the World, which highlights the group’s distinctive sound on this album. It’s based on their improvised percussion instruments, while a spacey steel guitar gives it an interesting texture. Lyrically it’s rather autobiographical for Ms. Arbo. <<>>
Somewhat more upbeat in sound is Down by the Water a cover tune by one James Armenti. One of the guys in the band does the lead vocal. It’s an appealing and interesting mixture of bluegrassy influence with more of a rock texture. <<>>
Keep It In Mind is another new original composition by Rani Arbo and the love song is presented in a more folky context. <<>>
Another of the new original tunes by Ms. Arbo is Walk Around the Wheel a kind of metaphorical love song. It’s one of the more electric tracks from this acoustic group. <<>>
Somewhat more along the lines of the group’s past work is their treatment of a fine song by Canadian songwriter James Hill called You Should See Me Now. It’s a highlight of the album. <<>>
The group shows a little Cajun influence in the track called Swing Me Down a cover of a song by Danny Schmidt. <<>>
Another piece that takes a folkier direction is a Rani Arbo original called Piece of Land, another excellent composition. <<>>
The one well-known song that the group covers is the country classic I’m Satisfied with You. The group does well by the song, with a bit of Western swing influence. <<>>
Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem has not put out a record that’s anything less than outstanding. Their new CD represents a bit of a change with more use of studio capabilities and eclectic electric instrumentation. While a few things plug in, the sound remains dominated by the acoustic, making for an interesting study in contrasts. Ms. Arbo is in fine vocal form as always, though the guys in the group got to do lead vocals on about half the tracks. engaging and quite appealing.
Our sound quality grade for this album is a B+. Even though there are some electric instruments, it’s still mainly acoustic, so the volume compression used in the mastering of the CD was inappropriate. And the lead vocals don’t offer as much clarity as some other CDs.
Violets Are Blue, the fifth release by the New England group Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem is another fine record that demonstrates the continuing creativity in the acoustic music world. Together with their New England cohorts Crooked Still, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem have been helping to redefine what people do in a band with bluegrass instrumentation instrumentation.
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