Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Leftovers: Trios: I’m With Her


Usually, when I go to a concert, I have expectations. That’s because I’m a fan of the artist, and I have a sense of what it will sound like. Most times, there’s an expectation of what you are going to hear—stuff from the new album, if there is one, some older favorites, maybe a cover, or a deep track. Of course, expectations can lead to disappointment, if the band has an off night, or doesn’t play your favorite song, for example.

Seeing a show by an artist that you aren’t that familiar with, or even totally unfamiliar with, can be liberating. Sure, you might be totally disappointed, but you can listen with a completely open mind. For me, that has been part of the joy of attending music festivals, most notably the Clearwater Festival (but also Newport Folk), because sprinkled between the familiar acts are new discoveries.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw I’m With Her at the Tarrytown Music Hall. When the tickets went on sale, I thought that it might be a good show, despite the fact that I was only vaguely familiar with their music. I was aware that all three members had reasonably successful careers in the folk music/singer-songwriter/Americana/bluegrass/roots music world, that Sara Watkins had been in Nickel Creek, and that I enjoyed all of their music, both solo and group, when I heard it on WFUV.

It turned out to be a great show. As much as I can enjoy a rocking show at the Music Hall (seeing The Mavericks shake the old building a few weeks before was a blast), there is something to be said to hearing beautiful music, well-played, in a quiet, appreciative concert hall. The show started off with another revelation, The Brother Brothers, identical twins David and Adam Moss, who played guitar, violin, and cello, and sang classic sounding (mostly) original folk music with wonderful brother harmonies. They set the stage well for the headliners, and seemed genuinely happy to be playing to a fairly large audience.

I’m With Her, which also features Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, made beautiful, mostly acoustic music on an array of stringed instruments, with beautiful harmonies. Apparently, they came together at an impromptu show in 2014 at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado where they had been booked to share a workshop, and during rehearsals, recognized that as good as they were individually, they had something special as a trio. They toured together, playing on each other’s songs and doing covers, before Hillary Clinton unwittingly commandeered the band's name as a slogan.

They began to write songs as a group, complicated by geography (O’Donovan and Jarosz live in New York City; Watkins lives in Los Angeles), busy work schedules as solo artists and as guests, teaching, and, for Watkins and O’Donovan, motherhood. Their album was recorded in England, in real time, with the musicians, producer and engineers all in one room.

And that, pretty much, was how the show went. The three women, facing each other on stage switching between instruments and between lead and harmony vocals. They played songs from their albums, solo tracks, and a few covers. And it was beautiful, and relaxing (less so for my wife, who was seated next to a very annoying person on her other side). In honor of Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday the previous day, they busted out a new cover of “Carey,” with each member of the group taking the lead on a verse. You could hear how each of them was influenced by the legend, but also how they had made that influence personal.

I chose to feature “Overland,” not because it was the best song they played, although it was quite good, but because it has a really cool paper stop action animation video. Featuring lead vocals and guitar from Watkins, with banjo from Jarosz and O’Donovan on guitar, it is a song about leaving home, in this case, Chicago, and heading to San Francisco, with all of the hope and trepidation that entails.

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