The question that hits me about midway through Spin as One, the latest exercise in transcendent Americana folk-rock by the beautifully intertwined (both spiritually and vocally) acoustic duo Mia and Jonah is, “If they started making music in San Francisco in the fall of 2003, why are they just hitting my radar now?” Maybe it’s because their generally mellow harmonic flow has been best known as an opening vibe for big names (like Tracy Chapman, Sia, Ben Taylor at the Fillmore) before moving to Southern California. Or because their only major tour was behind their 2007 album Room For Adelaide. It’s inspiring to see that they’ve been a critical darling all along, with a live show that “stirs audiences with a magical trance” (Eugene Weekly) and songs that have been described as “visionary” (Nascent Mag) and “timeless.” (Tunejar).
Better late than never, and I’m excited by the opportunity to toss my praise in the ring, on a multitude of levels, for the engaging singer/songwriters Mia Mustari and Jonah Blumstein. First, it’s the dreamy gossamer flow of their harmonies, which render them like a contemporary male-female version of Simon & Garfunkel. While the EP is a bit ballad heavy and could use slightly more variation in tempo (the rockin’, rumblin’ title track bears the most repeated listens by far), the instrumentation they and their band bring keep the ears attentive and engaged in all the sonic details behind that vocal caress. Mia’s contribution is the trippy bending sound of the handsaw while Jonah holds court with an expansive array of sonic possibilities via guitar, harmonica, dobro, mandolin and cello.
The pair are joined by an all-star cast that includes bassist Seth Ford-Young (Tom Waits, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), drummer Steve DiStanislao (David Gilmour, Crosby Stills & Nash, Kenny Loggins), and violinist Alan Grubner (Vitamin String Quartet) with a special guest appearance by Grammy-winning banjoist Chris Pandolfi (Infamous Stringdusters) on the title track.
Despite the infectious charms of the vocals and richly textured instrumentation, what really captivates, if you listen intently, is the image-rich poetry of the duo’s lyrics. In rendering their tales of life’s struggles, healing and love’s grand ability to open the heart and transform lives, they engage in ultra-cool lines like “Wipe off the dust from your tangerine. . .there is fruit to bear when we choose to heal…” (the meditative opener “Our Old Farm”); “Our hearts are carried by the dove/Soaring high above the flood” (“Spin as One”); “My body’s sore, soul is raw/I need your touch to heal once more” (the lilting “Sugarbones”); and “Open the skies above, and it rains down seeds/Open the life we love, in the songs we breathe.” They use images of a “Nightingale” and broken wings as metaphors for the innate human ability to overcome obstacles.
These kinds of words would be emotionally and spiritually uplifting if someone just read them – but the voices of Mia and Jonah turn them into a truly transcendent experience.