Three Part Harmony

They say that when two voices lock together in perfect harmony, there’s a mystery sound like a third voice. So how many extra voices are there when three people sing together? It sounded like a chorus of angels more than a few times yesterday at Roots, a cold Wednesday night when it seems fate brought us more three-part harmony than I would have thought possible on one show. Four out of five acts built their sound around three voices or achieved their climaxes with focused, beautiful vox humana in trio form. And the one fellow who sang solo, well he was quite amazing in his own right.

Act one was Atlanta based folk group Girlyman. As the name implies, the 10-year old band had a mild gender bendy thing going on; it was probably the first time we’ve seen a male bass player with an orange fur guitar strap and eyeliner at Roots. And two of the gals were in vests and ties. It lent sparkle and intrigue to an already bright and lively sound – three voices, a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, plus a solid and tasteful drummer. Front folk Nate Borofsky, Doris Muramatsu and Ty Greenstein took turns on lead vocals (all three in the space of one song on “Michalangelo”) but it kept coming back to a fusion of voices. And indeed Nate and Doris said on stage that harmony was their initial inspiration. The finale “Everything’s Easy” was an outright fugue of voices, weaving in and out in a cappella loveliness. Superb lyrics too. A fine opener all around.

Sam Lewis is a recent Nashville transplant, and of course he came here because Music City is where classic white guy soul/rock singers with beards come to seek their fortune. But maybe I’m not kidding. It’s been working for our friend Seth Walker, and I heard echoes of Seth’s vibe and sensibility (albeit more electrified and The Band-like) in Lewis’s magisterial sound. But beyond the honeyed voice and sparking band (guitar hero Kenny Vaughan included), Sam stood out for his songs, which had that been-here-forever quality. It’s no wonder this guy’s generating buzz. He looks a little like Kenny Loggins and sings a little like Van Morrison, making it Americana with a groovy twist. Welcome to Nashville. More of this please.

At that point the drums came clean off the stage, setting up an all-acoustic evening from that point forward. And on came Irene Kelley with a stripped down country band: bass, second guitar and the great Deannie Richardson on fiddle. She did a new song about her old home state heritage and family called “Pennsylvania Coal” and her take on her biggest hit cut “I’m A Little Bluer Than That.” Then she brought out her daughters (whom she apparently had when she was like 9 years old) to join in with some family harmony. Hello, chorus of angels. The song “You Are Mine” was a glorious and thrilling three-part easy country smash. I was reminded of The Whites, who’ve long made one of my favorite sounds in the music. The Kelley girls’ voices truly soothed and thrilled.

Sarah Siskind has a striking voice on her own, but lately she’s developed a trio sound with her dear friends Julie Lee and Elizabeth Foster. Practiced and polished by a long tour together, they simply melted hearts and banished the cold with their glowing performance. Sarah’s songs are a mystical blend of darkness and light, with sophisticated tonalities that most folk musicians never achieve or imagine. Opening your set with an a cappella song is brave, but “Crying On A Plane” had the crowd dead silent and transfixed. The rest of the set featured the sparkling and liquid sound of Sarah’s electric-meets-acoustic approach and stunning songs like “Feel For You” and “Novel,” the title cut from the current album.

And finally, the recently reorganized Rockin’ Acoustic Circus took the stage with some nice built-in suspense. The entire vocal front of the band was new. The cello was gone and in its place a twin fiddle concept. A new flatpicker. And wow. This is going to work. Playing in a newgrass/prog-folk vein, they’ve already found a sound that’s their own. I loved the ease of and twin fiddle pizzicato on “Lazy John,” and Dillon Hodges’s vocal and guitar on “Got A Little Something” was just outstanding. But again, the chill bumps happened with Dillon, Rachel Baiman and Aaron Chaffins gathered around the single mic and blended their voices. They’ve got a lot to learn about each other and develop this sound, but fans of The Bee Eaters and Crooked Still are going to be looking forward to RAC’s new album for sure.

The evening ended with a rousing group-sing on the bluegrass song “Christmas Time’s A Comin’” and that was just what your correspondent needed to jump start the spirit. There were a lot of voices up there for the Loveless Jam, so many I lost count, but it was the right way to finish off a night of the powers of three.

Craig H

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