"I'll leave you to your crowds," Sachal Vasandani murmurs to start off an album that couldn't be less suited to being with a crowd. The touch of irony is apt. The sound of Midnight Shelter is a lonely and thoughtful one (a reflection of the music's origin in a season of isolation), yet as with its title, there's a vital comforting angle too. This duality makes a gorgeous and mostly soothing listen for pandemic times. The players don't shy away from the sadness and uncertainty of their circumstances, which makes the underlying warmth resonate that much more in the end.
Comprising only Vasandani's butterscotch croon and Romain Collin's subtly eloquent piano, the recording is the exact personification of beautiful late-night quietif anything, midnight almost feels on the early side for this wee-hours mood. The musicians are friends and neighbors who began playing together partly to deal with the Covid-imposed shutdown during the strange summer of 2020, and so the melancholy is always warmed by the fact that it's about connection rather than solitude.
More than anything, the overall effect is therapeutic. Vasandani's baritone hits just the right pitches: slow-flowing for a haunting take on Nick Drake's "River Man," plaintive for soft ballads like "Love Away," humbly understated in the quasi-folky "Adore You" and so on. It's a fascinating left-field decision to pen new words for a Wayne Shorter piece, which he and Collin turn into a wistful meditation without losing the trace of classic bop at the center. Selections from Bob Dylan and the Beatles make the warmest refreshing moments, pitch-perfectly familiar and heartwarming amidst the chilly spots.
The two have a smooth and cozy chemistry that keeps them in step even when playing loose with rubato timing. Selections from all eras feel of a piece in this timelessly simple format, from '60s classics to new originals to 2019's minor indie hit "Before You Go," whose sparse rendition makes it downright sublime. This Shelter is a spare yet reassuring one; Vasandani and Collin prefer to remind us that the loneliest hours of the night still have a little glow somewhere if you know where to look.
Summer No School; Before You Go; Adore You; River Man; Great Ocean Road; Throw It Away; Don't Think Twice, It's All Right; Love Away; Blackbird; Dance Cadaverous; One Last Try.
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