Augmeanted is a musical duo from Missoula, Montana with distinct classical influences. Cousins Mary Overlie (vocals/piano) and Geoffrey Taylor (violins/chin cello/mandolin) are established musicians in their own right: Overlie is the creative spark for the band Mudsong in Minnesota, while Taylor is a professional violinist in Missoula. Collectively they’ve been recording and composing for over 15 years, and their debut album together is titled Life, twice.
The album takes its name from a quote by author Anais Nin: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.” Their press release describes their music’s effect on listeners as “…feathered by the wings of the crescent moonrise, embraced by the concert hall’s symphonic swirl, or rib-tickled by Appalachian fireflies. Taking their cue from Victor Hugo, Augmeanted writes music to ‘express that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent,’ giving voice to moments best carried along the heart’s strings. The recordings are a mix of vocally-driven meditations on the moments that leave us speechless, and violin-driven improvisations that say what’s impossible to say.”
Vocals and piano tracking took place at Supple Studios in Minnesota, with fiddle added in Taylor’s home studio in Missoula. Final mix was by Troy Foss.
“Pressed” begins with an a cappella vocal with the words: “Any day now, any day now…” making me think I was about to hear a cover of the classic song “I Shall Be Released.” The song goes somewhere quite different, however! Overlie’s evocative vocals and piano are perfectly paired with Taylor’s strings, and the imagery reaches far and deep: “Like the Lutheran’s say / each judgement (sun)Day / Forgive me for what I’ve left undone.” As the song continues it feels almost like an old heartland classic. Taylor’s chin cello overdubs (a violin with strings tuned an octave lower, like a cello) and violins sound uncannily like a small chamber group. Interestingly Overlie doesn’t always stick to the printed lyrics, adding and changing lines at whim.
“Water Works” introduces Taylor’s mandolin, which gives the music even more of a Civil War-era feel. After a short intro, Overlie takes another a cappella vocal that plays like a spiritual (without being dedicated to any specific deity, unless it’s the Earth and its elements). I actually got chills when the mandolin and voice finally joined together.
“Big Medicine” has the dynamics of a Carole King tune or a Phoebe Snow vocal crossed with Augmeanted’s chamber group sound. I’m guessing the “big medicine” of the title is music, to which I would wholeheartedly agree. “So I heat up this voice, cook it over this heartfire / And I tie off my choice, just let my longing speak its desire… Your song is the only way to heal.” Lots of drama in the musical climax here. Speaking of drama, the following “Love You More” feels like a moment alone onstage where a character reveals her deepest feelings to her partner, and us. Another breathtaking vocal performance by Ms. Overlie. Each instrument so totally commands its space that when someone foot-stomps in time, it feels as big as a kick drum. Taylor’s violin solo at the end has touches of Middle Eastern phrasing.
Even the title of “Shanendoah’s Roads” sounds traditional, and this track is an upbeat mandolin-featured ditty with multiple vocal overdubs by Overlie that remind me of the late Capitol Records artist Salli Terri. “I never thought that I’d return to the lands I left many songs ago / My weary eyes, my beleaguered soul / has sung its way Home to my Shenando’.”
“Stung” features yet another gorgeous strings and piano arrangement. I’d never heard of the chin cello before this album, and it really does create a low, sonorous and enveloping feel to the music, even more than a traditional cello would (which is an interesting dichotomy!). Augmeanted’s lyrics often seem concerned with Love in all its forms, and in this song “Stung” indicates being “stung by love” and how this is not a bad thing. In fact: love “…keeps your heart afloat in all of the murk and the grime / Let it take your breath / Give each its time.”
The latter half of the album consists of a 22-minute suite in five parts called “The Catching Snowflakes Suite” (just like the album cover!). The opener “Chasing Pomegranate Moons” is a languorous overture where both piano and strings are able to stretch out. There are “lyrics” but they don’t appear in the track. “Wildfired Sunrise” is a surprisingly jazzy tune (with a trace of Vince Guaraldi) that references the experience of seeing the sun cloaked red in smoke and haze (we get a lot of that in California). With “Jumping Waves” I’m starting to think this is actually an “elements” suite like Brian Wilson. The music here seems to mirror the constant crashing and churning of ocean waves, with an early Velvet Underground abandon. “Sandial” sees the passage of time through the grains of a sandial, with the piano tinkling almost like children’s music to mark the moments gone by, as Taylor contributes a romantic violin reverie. The suite concludes with the gentle, quiet rumination “Sevens, Nines & Elevens” that borrows the main chords from “Trois Gymnopedies” by Erik Satie.
The album’s final track “BeLeave You” returns to the group’s classic sound, and just might be an ode to, and celebration of, creative writing! Or it could be as big as releasing the shackles of preconceptions that weigh down one’s self. I like that I can’t be sure!
For those among us who love strings and classically-influenced projects, this album is a must! I’m very excited for this group’s future projects.
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