Each a long-time associate of Origin Records, John Stowell and Dan Dean not only show themselves to be exemplary musicians on Rain Painting but exceptional sleight-of-hand artists too. While Dean's a respected bassist and vocalist, he's also established himself as a producer and recording engineer for the label, and it was through the mastering of Stowell recordings, in particular those with his group Scenes, that he came to appreciate the guitarist's work. The incipient collaboration moved to its next stage when Stowell discovered Dean's classical vocal release Songs Without Words, which showcases the singer's multi-layered vocal artistry.
As live and in-the-moment as Rain Painting sounds, it was, in fact, assembled using a methodical, back-and-forth production approach: after Stowell recorded nylon string guitar tracks, Dean added vocals; Stowell then built on that with solos and rhythm parts, leading to more background vocals and finally Dean's bass and virtual drums and percussion. What in less skilful hands might have ended up a sterile paint-by-numbers exercise is a document that sounds fresh and spontaneous, despite having been meticulously created over a year. While both are listed as producers, the compositions are credited to Stowell and the vocal arrangements Dean; the former plays acoustic, electric, and fretless electric guitars, the latter fretless acoustic bass guitar and electric and fretless electric basses.
Stylistically, the music deftly straddles jazz, blues, and folk and extends past North American borders to South American too. The opening "Welcome to Nice" backs a characteristically explorative solo by Stowell and vocal scatting with a relaxed swing but also flirts with other forms in acoustic folk flavours that seep into the arrangement. Dean's vocalese, whether presented in a single voice or in multi-layered form, is always enhancing and that his bass playing in places evokes Steve Swallow's is hardly cause for complaint either. If the drumming is entirely programmed, Dean's done a marvelous job of giving it the feel of a live player.
The breezy, almost samba-like title track and "Always Sometimes" grant Stowell two of many opportunities to demonstrate his prowess as a soloist and gift for organizing personal expression into a lucid, compact statement, and Dean complements him well in that regard in his vocal and bass solos (check out his smoothly funky vocal riffing in "Tapioca Time," for example, and vivid fretless bass turn in "Schiffletting"). There's always something to tickle the ear, be it the percussion that percolates alongside the guitar in "Alora Andiamo!" or the unison lines voiced by bass and voice during "Nanti Glo." Let's not get carried away: Rain Painting isn't a landmark recording, but it's definitely innovative, original, and musically rewarding, and each participant resoundingly benefits from their pooling of talents.