Earlier this year I agreed to review a concert of the Nashville-based husband and wife duo of Nick Stone (vocals, guitar) and Dani Cichon (vocals, mandolin), without previously having heard any of their music and it is fair to say I was blown away. I was fortunate enough to see them on two consecutive nights, and the mix of Dani’s pure, clear vocals with Nick’s more classical tones was something to behold. It was only after I had seen them that I was able to pay attention to their debut album, Luxumbra, which also features the third member of the band, cellist Alex Stradal who was unable to make the journey to Aotearoa. That 2020 album is a delight, and they funded it with a Kickstarter campaign which raised more than 120% of its funding goal, so they have now gone back into the studio and re-recorded four of the songs from the album totally acoustically.
Apparently, the songs were chosen by their fans, and if I was pushed to make a selection, I would say it is hard to disagree with this quartet, as it clearly shows the different elements of the band. It doesn’t say if this is a live in-studio recording but it would not surprise me if that was the case as it contains that vibrancy and energy which only comes from a live performance. When the duo was here I could not imagine them being any better, but there is no doubt that Alex provides additional elements to the music, either in an orchestral manner or providing a stronger bottom end, utilising the full range of sounds available with a cello. The EP starts a capella, with just some reverb on the harmonies as Nick and Dani launch into the light number which is Always You, and immediately we are transfixed, all attention on the vocals, with the mandolin, cello and acoustic guitar providing the perfect backdrop as Dani provides wonderful clarity, with Nick’s harmonies offsetting those clear sounds.
South For Winter have a couple of distinct styles, with murder ballads being one of them, dark and menacing, gothic and full of menace, emotional and haunting. Devil Is A Callin’ is the first of these, with Alex’s cello creating a timbre and style which moves into a very dark place indeed. Twine brings back into a far warmer and friendly environment, with picked guitar the perfect accompaniment as Dani is far lighter in manner. This was the first single from the original album, inviting and gently bringing us closer so we don’t miss anything.
The final song is the one for me which is the absolute highlight, another murder ballad, Ten Black Crows. This was the very first song I ever heard them perform and I was in awe of what I was hearing back then. Since then, it has become a firm favourite, and the feelings being created with this number are dark, emotional, heartfelt, and deep. Alex provides a stirring bottom end, Dani and Nick’s voices join, and then the last minute allows them all to show off their chops as the voices lift, the music becomes more intense, and it feels like we are being dragged on a wild ride. South For Winter are back up North at the moment but let us hope they again decide to come South for our summer, as they are one of the most dynamic bands around. If you enjoy Americana and folk then this EP is essential, as is Luxumbra, and keep playing them until you can catch the guys yourselves. Awesome.