As I listen to this album for the first time, I’m reminded of the lovely summer night I saw Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem at a free concert in Huntington, New York. As is the case in concerts of this kind, most of the people in attendance had wandered by because it was there for free in the local park. After a few songs, people were nudging each other and nodding, by the end of the show the band had won a lawn-full of fans. Some Bright Morning has that same kind of instant accessibility and charm. One must suspend one’s disbelief in the possibility of fresh and new music from traditional forms when Daisy Mayhem blends and plays it with musicianship, friendship and the “Drumship.” Rani Arbo’s voice is as pure as a tomboy’s, yet as strong and sure as the mom and veteran musician she is. Her fiddling has the same straightforward charm as her vocals. Rani and Andrew Kinsey have been kindred spirits since their days with Salamander Crossing. If you have ever met Andrew, you will realize that his solid bass playing and baritone singing are somehow not contradicted by his forays with the ukulele. Anand Nayak is a talented singer and songwriter whose guitar work adds an eclectic and sometimes electric edge to the sound. Scott Kessel is the Picard of the Drumship Enterprise, the whimsical but finely timbered collection of objects (a suitcase, cookie tins, etc.) he percusses as persuasively as if he had a normal kit.
The more one listens to this album, the more deeply one appreciates the depth of the material and the talent and chemistry of Daisy Mayhem. Their harmony singing reveals a shared musical vision as the voices perfectly compliment one other. Similarly, their playing has a sparkling quality, arranged to bring out the best in the songs and each other.
Arbo’s own songs highlight the transparent quality of her voice that connects you directly to the emotions of the songs. “Miami Moon,” from the point of view of an old man reminiscing about how he would dance with his sweetheart, is hard to listen to without a tear in your eye. The same guilelessness makes “Build a Bridge” [ed. “Bridges“] more than the sum of its gorgeous harmonies. “Crossing the Bar,” the Tennyson poem with music by Arbo, originally done with Salamander Crossing, is beautifully phrased and arranged here.
Although Arbo is eponym of the band, everyone gets a chance to shine. Anand Nayak takes the lead on “Reason to Believe,” (a Springsteen song that was begging for the Mayhem/gospel/string band treatment), and the traditional “East Virginia Blues.” Andrew Kinsey takes the lead (and ukulele) on the traditional “I’ll Fly Away.” His “Fire in the Sky” gets a new interpretation, starting with high lonesome harmonies before roaring out in a fuzzy electric haze. Although Scott Kessel seems content to back the others with his tastefully textured percussion, he gets to show off his sticks on the funky blues of “Little Johnny Brown” and “Travelin‘ Shoes.”
Some Bright Morning is a joyful and consummate achievement.