Review: Ida Mae’s ‘Thunder Above You’ Rattles and Hums

Ida Mae
Thunder Above You
(Vow Row Records)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The third album from Nashville by way of the UK married couple guitarist/singer Chris Turpin and vocalist/keyboardist Stephanie Maura Jean Ward, was recorded under unusual circumstances.

The edgy indie folk/blues twosome who perform under the name Ida Mae, returned to the UK, created a recording space in a friend’s house and, due to Ward being seven months pregnant, knocked out a dozen songs in a week. They kept the instrumentation tight, stripped-down, and uncluttered with just bass and longtime associate Ethan Johns handling percussion.

Those familiar with Ida Mae’s sound know they are difficult to pigeonhole, an approach that continues here. Shifting from Zeppelin/Jack White inflected bombast (“Wild Flying Dove,” “American Cars”) to the most elusive and delicate acoustic ballads (“Landslide” [not the Fleetwood Mac song], “Lost on Your Time”), these eleven originals display the duo’s eclectic compositional skills.

Turpin’s tenor voice dovetails perfectly with Ward’s similar style; when they harmonize, as on the acoustic title track, the effect is atmospheric and ghostly. Their poetic lyrics to that tune and others match the music’s gauzy, delicate drift as they sing with tenderness and passion Take my hand until it’s sure/We’re all just shadows, hearts and bones/And I loved you more than I could ever have shown.

Elsewhere, as on “Doing It for Badness,” the vibe turns spooky and swampy with Johns thumping on raw, even primitive, cymbal-free percussion and subtle washes of synthesizer bringing additional mystery to a song already engulfed in it. The respect and attraction they have for each other is obvious in the lyrics of “To You Love” which rises from a stark ballad to a roaring rocker and back, with both singing Your laugh is like the rolling tide on me/We blow the stars just to watch them spin/But tonight we’ll just let love rage/With the hunger of 1000 kings.

The vibrant, sizzling Latin percussion greeting us on the opening “My Whispers are Wildfire” and reappearing for the boiling “Wild Flying Dove” (the latter featuring the disc’s most jazz/funk-oriented playing), is frustratingly absent for the rest of the program since that terse attack is responsible for two of this set’s most propulsive and powerful performances.

Although the disc’s final third would benefit from more rocking to rev up the moving of introspective material, Thunder Above You is an impressive, heartfelt collection that displays Ida Mae’s artistic integrity. Where they go from this nearly overdub-free performance is uncertain, but it’s clear Turpin and Ward, and their newly expanded family, are in it for the long haul.  

Photo by Dean Chalkley / Courtesy Missing Piece Group

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