Music Review: A sweet and savory mostly acoustic mix from Avery Hellman’s ISMAY on 'Desert Pavement'

This cover image shows "Desert Pavement," a self-released album by Ismay. (Ismay via AP)

Avery Hellman possesses an affable alto that’s quirky, as is the perspective from which Hellman writes.

“Sitting alone on the porch I think / About the things we washed down the sink,” goes one couplet.

Hellman, whose grandfather founded the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, is the rural California singer-songwriter behind the musical moniker ISMAY and the new album “Desert Pavement,” a captivating set with indeterminate antecedents.

Hellman and producer/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marlin create rich colors and hazy atmospherics in a sweet and savory mix. Fetching melodies are the kind one might whistle, and on “Stranger in the Barn,” Marlin does.

Disembodied backing vocals dart in and out, tricky fingerpicking patterns on guitar provide syncopation and drums reverberate as though they’re inside drums themselves. The result is mostly acoustic music that sounds good loud.

Animals, nature and farm life are recurring subjects. On “The Ohio,” Hellman sings of desert cracks, wild winds and the tug of a river. “Coyote in the Road” considers the encounter from both points of view, while “The Shearer & the Darby Ram” spins a tale from British lore.

Topics elsewhere include family skeletons, domestic dysfunction, empathy, decency and creativity.

“My pathway to others,” Hellman sings “is paved out in records.”

And this record is an inviting pathway to ISMAY.


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