Like most other working musicians, vocalist Sachal Vasandani and pianist Romain Collin have spent the past year replacing plans with spontaneous actions, so the New York-based friends agreed to meet up at a Brooklyn studio over a couple of days last summer and just wing it. The result is a thoroughly amiable program of intimate ballads, a low-key, feather-light affair consisting primarily of covers with a few original numbers tossed in.
Midnight Shelter, willfully, never raises the temperature. Collin’s accompaniments avoid histrionics and Vasandani largely keeps things toned down as well, his heartfelt, hushed vocal approach recalling the subtleties of Chet Baker, Kenny Rankin or, on the pop side, Donovan or Devendra Banhart.
Another reference point would be Nick Drake, the long-deceased British singer/songwriter whose “River Man” is one of the 11 duets presented here. Drake’s original, bathed in an orchestral arrangement, is stripped down to its essence here, the interpretation retaining his ethereal patina while bringing an even more melancholy tenor to the song. Whether taking on music from the catalogs of Abbey Lincoln (“Throw It Away”), the Beatles (“Blackbird”), or Bob Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice,” perhaps the album’s most upbeat number), Vasandani and Collin drill to each piece’s core and discover how best to mold it into something distinctively their own.
A couple of offbeat tracks surprise by their inclusion alone: “Dance Cadaverous,” from Wayne Shorter’s classic Speak No Evil, is utterly transformed into a tranquil meditation (with words added by the singer), while “Adore You,” a song from the contemporary heartthrob Harry Styles’ Fine Line album, is divested of its shiny production, recasting its frothy lyrics into an almost somber contemplation of the splendor of love.