Azure Ray with guests James Husband, Dead Fingers.
8:00 pm /$12.00 – $14.00
It’s easy to forget, but when Azure Ray were active during the first years of the previous decade, Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor were fairly prolific, releasing three albums in three years along with a handful of singles and EPs. Their last was 2003’s Hold On Love, and a year later, for various reasons, Azure Ray went on indefinite hiatus, and the childhood friends went their separate ways. In the interim, they both stayed typically busy: Each released a few solo albums and recorded various side projects. But even in 2004, it seemed inevitable that they would one day gravitate back toward each other. Sure enough, they started playing shows again in 2008 and now have released their fourth album as Azure Ray, Drawing Down the Moon.
Listening to these songs, it’s like the last six years have been erased; Fink and Taylor pick up right where they left off, building on the spare arrangements and hushed vocals that have always defined their sound. Eric Bachmann even returns to produce the album, making him the unofficial third Ray. In a niche now crowded with similar harmony acts like the Watson Twins and the Chapin Sisters, Azure Ray still sound idiosyncratic, eschewing pop-historical settings for quietly, almost casually innovative arrangements.
Drawing Down the Moon begins with a gorgeous flourish of harp, an overture in miniature, but it’s more Disney than Joanna Newsom, more “Baby Mine” than Ys. The song that follows, oddly, is a lullaby in reverse, gently rousing you– or perhaps the long dormant Azure Ray– from slumber. Rather than jump back in, Fink and Taylor ease into the album. “Don’t Leave My Mind” is equally hushed, a plea to a former lover who’s going somewhere beyond the reach of texts and cell phones. Again, the sentiment could apply to their own lengthy absence: “You can go where each day takes you, some place I can’t find,” they sing together, “but don’t leave my mind.”
At times, the songs sound so light they threaten to fade out of existence altogether. With its simple acoustic guitar, “Larraine” is so hushed as to be a cappella, which doesn’t serve the indignation of the story especially well. While the pair’s harmonies remain as tightly and gracefully intertwined as ever, such a near-silent hush has never been their most flattering setting. In fact, Drawing Down the Moon is best when Bachmann pairs Fink and Taylor with music as interesting as their vocals. A floor tom beats a curious tattoo through “Make Your Heart”, lending the song its tense momentum and providing the foundation for a full string arrangement. “Shouldn’t Have Loved” shimmers with thrumming keyboards, dramatic chimes, and a shuffling live beat, which nicely offset their sustained harmonies.
That song stands out primarily because it sounds new, like something the Azure Ray of 2003 wouldn’t have done. But such moments are rare on Drawing Down the Moon, which wants merely to pick up where Hold On Love left off. The upside is that it sounds warmly familiar, a reminder of why we missed them in the first place, but the downside is that the album gives very few indications of what Fink and Taylor have learned during their hiatus– the new tricks they’ve picked up from their various projects and collaborations, the ways their individual outlooks might have changed, and why they got back together at all. Of course, if Azure Ray prove as productive now as they were eight years ago, we may not have to wait very long for such revelations.
— Stephen M. Deusner, September 23, 2010