Northwest Trio Sway Wild (Dave McGraw, Mandy Fer, and Thom Lord) Launch New Project (ALBUM REVIEW)

Multi-instrumentalists and indie-folk duo Mandy Fer and Dave McGraw are adventurous, exploring remote areas and islands of British Columbia while they reside in an off-the-grid kind of place themselves, San Juan Island in Washington. Their wanderlust and thirst for something new have resulted in a rather appropriate name for their new musical project, Sway Wild. Joined by bassist Thom Lord, theirs is a sound that traverses all pillars of Americana music.

Fer is an impressive guitarist but also handles keyboards and such seldom heard instruments as xylophone and wind chimes. She shares the vocals with McGraw who mainly plays drums and percussion but also keyboards and (there it is again) wind chimes. The album was recorded in Portland, Oregon, and engineered by Justin Phelps (Cake, Galactic, Bob Weir). Fer and McGraw called on friends and respected musicians such as Birds of Chicago and Sean Hayes for vocals, members of MarchFourth for a three-piece horn section and Portland’s own Anna Tivel for vocals and violin in the strings lineup along with cellists Skip VonKuske (Portland Cello Project) and Anna Fritz.

The already released single “Comin’ and Goin’,” also the album’s leadoff track, has Fer singing lead while her distinctive guitar soars above the rhythm laid down by McGraw and Lord as The Birds of Chicago provide the gospel harmonies with accompaniment from piano and horns. You could catch this on YouTube too. As the album unfolds it runs the gamut of emotions from jubilation to grief and frustration, bolstered by incisive lyrics and gorgeous harmonies. In its essence, though, this is a guitar and vocal harmony album.

Fer uses her Fender Stratocaster for both the fiery leads and chordal rhythms, often at the same time. She stands out as a masterful guitarist in an artistic place that has historically been male-dominated. McGraw and Lord, who met as wildlife biologists studying endangered California condors in the Grand Canyon, provide the simpatico rhythm section that both supports and pushes her.

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