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Quote the Raven: The Settler
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/24/2021)
Co-ed singer-songwriter duos have been a presence on the music scene over the years. On this review series we have featured Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Pharis and Jason Romero, Oliver the Crow, Heather Humphrey & Tom McKeown, and the Jellyman’s Daughter, to name a few. This week, we have a Canadian duo who create an appealing melodic sound, and mainly go in for easy-going love songs, occasionally with a hint of country influence, while managing to avoid the cliches.
They call themselves Quote the Raven, a name they arrived at, they say, after discarding many other potential names they came up with. They borrowed it from the Edgar Allen Poe poem, and made the verb more contemporary.
Kristen Rodden-Clarke and Jordon Coaker met singing in a vocal ensemble in 2011 in their hometown of Conception Bay South, on the island of Newfoundland. Coaker says that the other members of the vocal ensemble said that his and Rodden-Clarke’s vocals really blended well and suggested that they sing together more. Rodden-Clarke started joining Coaker on some performances around their hometown, and they have been working together since. They began attracting attention in Canada, and on social media and the like. Their debut album Golden Hour won awards in their Canadian province, and they began touring more widely. The new release was a long time in coming, being mostly finished by January of 2020 just before the pandemic. They drew inspiration for some of the songs from time spent Nashville. But the new album is a Canadian production with musicians from north of the border.
The sound is rather conventional with folk and roots influence, but it’s tastefully done. The lyrics are almost all about different facets of the basic lovesong genre. But Ms. Rodden-Clarke says that they are drawn more to strong melodies, and that is what they deliver on Can’t Hold the Light. Among the most prominent backing musicians on the album are keyboard man Jason Mingo who also did some producing, Geoff Ardenault on drums and Ronald Hines in acoustic and electric bass.
Ms. Rodden-Clarke and Coaker approach their vocals in different ways on different songs, sometimes alternating lines, or having one voice dominate in a song, or going all out for harmonies.
Opening is a track released as a single, Hope. It’s a well written song about the strength of a love, with a some steel guitar giving it a bit of a country twang. <<>>
It doesn’t get more of a straight-out love song than the band’s Love You the Best with a mainly acoustic folky setting and nice vocal harmonies. <<>>
Also with the steel guitar providing country influence is The Moth with the title a reference to the attraction between lovers like a moth to a flame. <<>>
The title track Can’t Hold the Light is another laid back, thoughtful-sounding song in waltz time. <<>>
For me, probably the best set of lyrics comes on the song Home Is Worth the Blues which also features some of the duo’s best harmonies. <<>>
A collection of love songs would not be complete without one on a breakup or at least separation. Quote the Raven offers up a tune called Cold London Air done as a piano ballad. <<>>
Also in the sad-breakup department is another of the album’s highlights, Never Is an Awfully Long Time. Most of the songs on the album are positive affirmations of love, but Coaker and Rodden-Clarke’s airy vocal harmonies seem at their best on his melancholy song. <<>>
The Newfoundland duo Quote the Raven’s new second release Can’t Hold the Light is an enjoyable album of tastefully performed love songs. Their lyrical subjects has been explored many hundreds of times before, but they show why romance has been such a durable muse for songwriters over the ages. Their songs are thoroughly relatable, if not terribly profound lyrically, but their combination of melodic songwriting, excellent vocal harmonies and pleasing arrangements dividing vocal duties, makes the album comfort food for the ears.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The vocals are generally clean and well captured, and the acoustic instrumentation is handled well. But as is so often the case, the record was over-compressed, squashing out the dynamics of the performance in a misguided effort at maximizing loudness.
While innovative and stylistically eclectic music can make for stimulating listening, a nice album of anodyne love songs, performed skillfully and with class, is always welcome.
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