Mira Stanley and Chuck E. Costa, who call their duo The Sea The Sea, held a CD release performance at Rockwood Music Hall, Saturday, March 1. I had seen the two perform at The Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) Conference previously. I don’t recall what I heard at NERFA, but this time the impact seemed tenfold. They were very impressive. The harmonies were lush and melodies were unique. They entered from the back of the small basement room of Stage 3, singing the first track of Love We Are We Love, “Re: Blah,” unamplified, with Chuck on banjo. They reached the stage as the song ended, and the packed room roared its approval. The rest of the set explored the songs from the CD and added a few new ones as well.
Mira sang without playing anything on some songs and then played guitar or added creative, steady percussion on a snare drum on a few others. Chuck switched back and forth between acoustic guitar and electric guitar and banjo. I especially enjoyed his spare, haunting electric leads, whether they were done fingerstyle or picked individually. They amply stood in for the excellent studio production on the CD. They ended the set with the closing track on their CD, “Ten Thousand Birds.” On this song, Mira played electric guitar and Chuck simply sang. I had been informed that video recording would not be allowed, but I made a surreptitious video of this song.
What can I add about their vocals? We’ve admired Chuck’s feathery baritone for years, and his partnership with Mira has added another elegant instrument, at once both delicate and powerful. Our respect for this duo has skyrocketed. We encourage everyone to see them live.
CD Review: Love We Are We Love
There are so many gems on this CD, It’s hard to pick favorites. We especially loved:
“Re: Blah,” Track one examines the philosophical point of view about having too much faith in people, then getting disappointed when they don’t come through: you say sometimes you have too much faith in people / they have a way of letting you down / but I say, don’t be quick to judge those people ’cause that kind of thing / has a way of coming back around.
Chuck described its origin this way: “This song was inspired by an email one of my younger sisters sent me with the subject ‘Blah’. She was having a difficult few months when she felt like she was putting “too much faith” in people who kept letting her down. So she asked me, as her big brother, for advice — and while I sent her an email in response, Mira and I also sent her this song. The idea of having ‘too much faith’ was an idea that really resonated with me…is it possible to have ‘too much faith’? Is there such a thing? To me, it seems like an all or nothing proposition. You either have faith in something or your don’t. You can’t have too much or too little of it. Love We Are We Love is an album about leaps of faith into the unknown and trusting intuition – so this song felt like the right way to introduce the idea of having faith in something – we like to think of it as a prelude.”
“Guess it Was” This song is one good example (among many) where the duo illustrates their command of a poetic phrase: Oh the day rose up like it had before / And I rolled the stone away / and pushed it up the mountain / and thought I heard you say / Something ’bout how you have to let some things go / could’ve been the radio / Oh I thought it was a freight train / Guess it was just everything. The harmonies, need I say, are an absolute joy.
“Love We Are We Love” The chorus of the title track is sung as a round at the beginning and the end, with overlapping lines. It effectively illustrates the idea of the eternal pondering of the nature of love: Love we are wise too late to know / too late too wise … Was it a hammer or a fist? / A feather or a kiss? This is a track where Mira uses the snare and Chuck is on acoustic guitar.
“In the Dark”
I’m especially fond of this one because the harmony, tempo and melody remind me of early rockabilly and the Everly Brothers. If the Everlys had come from Michigan, this one might’ve slipped somewhere in between “Bye, Bye, Love and Cathy’s Clown.” Are there birds that fly in the dark / in the dark, in the dark … when I come back to Michigan / will we kiss again?
“Fists Full of Flowers”
The rolling bass line that begins this song reminds me of the indie rock/jazz of Sam Prekop (a member of the coincidentally-named art-rock band The Sea and Cake). The offbeat melody yet positive nature of the lyrics is enhanced by the spritely quickness of the way it’s sung: Once we planted a garden, but it didn’t grow …not where we wanted ’cause the seeds had blown / over the fence into the field, oh – oh / do you think it’ll still be beautiful when we’re old?
There are sonic delights on the exquisitely conceived “Watertreader.” I love the chime-like electric guitar strum and I think I hear the very clever use of a finger running the edge of “tuned” water glasses in the background of the chorus (Jonny Rodgers on “tuned glasses” in the album credits).
… And the sky / opened wide / and I tried / my best to breathe / Cause I’ve been a watertreader / lost at sea / spending time, spending energy / And I have almost run out / So I’m heading out / into the deep
“In My Pocket”
There’s a fingerpicked melody, rising and falling on the electric guitar that I love, sliding chord patterns with the strings pinched up and back along the fretboard. There might be more of the “tuned glasses” here as well. Something borrowed, something stolen / Something silver, something golden / in my pocket / Something lucid, something shallow / something rooted, a sparrow / in my mind
“Ten Thousand Birds”
The closing track, softly sung, has a haunting quality. It was the sound / a gentle thunder / ten thousand birds / in the front yard / altogether / all at once / taking wing to lift the silence / that one moves / moves the other / it was the sound / a gentle thunder. Slightly overlapping lines and the wash of piano and — is it those tuned glasses again? — bring the album to a fitting finale.
Every song deserves an accolade, but I’m running out of superlatives. Jazz and rock bassist, composer and producer Todd Sickafoose, did an outstanding production job on Love We Are We Love. This album is a must-have.