Bold, powerful and captivating, the third album from English duo Ida Mae is a mature, satisfying offering. Play it loud.
Ida Mae is husband and wife duo Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean Ward. The couple moved from their native England to Nashville in 2019, prior to the release of their debut album “Chasing Lights”. “Thunder Above You” is the duo’s third album, following 2021’s “Click Click Domino”. It follows several months spent touring, traversing the USA, including stints supporting such luminaries as Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson, before the duo returned to the UK and settled in the English countryside. The new record is a bold, powerful, dynamic, eclectic romp across a range of musical styles. It’s an album that deserves to be played loud; turning your radiogram’s volume dial to the right will more than reward the effort of doing so.
The recording sessions were brief, while the location was somewhat different to the norm. Intrigued by the country mansion owned by the father of one of his friends, Turpin persuaded the friend’s father to let them turn part of the mansion into a temporary recording studio, subsequently creating the studio in one day, furnishing it with vintage equipment collected over many years.
Recording occurred over seven days; eschewing pre-production and rehearsal, most cuts were recorded live and what your hear on record tend to be second takes. The freshness resulting from this approach and the intimacy of the studio set-up shine through. The duo were joined by previous collaborators Ethan Johns (drums) and Nick Pini (bass) and this familiarity has paid dividends with an evident musical chemistry.
It’s a difficult album to categorise; certainly by musical genre. It is, in places, intense, mesmeric and dark; there is an edge to much of the lyrical content, but also a softer, tender side in places. Percussion is a feature, with seemingly a wide range of percussion ‘instruments’, not all of them readily identifiable to this listener. Steve Earle employed metal dustbins to good effect on the song ‘Conspiracy Theory‘ from 2002’s “Jerusalem” album and (played by Earle’s brother Patrick) on stage; it could be that Ida Mae have taken a similar approach on some tracks. Turpin and Ward often employ dual vocals, which are very effective. A lyric from ‘Lost on Your Time‘ could, in fact, be a description of the vocal style: “As the road bends and rolls, we’ll twist like flames in the fire“. The way in which the two voices harmonise, but criss-cross and interweave can be really special.
The album opens with ‘My Whispers are Wildfire‘, one of the four singles preceding its release. The track is moody and powerful with guitars to the fore. Ward spits out the words: “Blood boiling like a broken kettle, My mind numb as machine gun metal, You say I’m living in a kingdom state? Eating cold takeout on a plastic plate“.
‘Into Your River‘ is gentler, more atmospheric, with a feature being Turpin’s guitar work. ‘American Cars‘ has echoes of The White Stripes, while ‘Wild Flying Dove’ is a strong, melodic rock song. ‘Landslide‘ and the album’s title track are more gentle, acoustically instrumented pieces, featuring aching harmony vocals. Proceedings conclude with ‘Hold You Like Fading Light‘, a slow, brooding number, featuring dual vocals and a rich guitar sound, particularly notable during the guitar solo. It’s a satisfying end to the record which warrants being played loud and often.