I stumbled across a newish musical group that I really like. I’m with Her has been called a folk supergroup, with three female singer-songwriter-instrumentalists getting together in gorgeous harmony with bluegrass and roots stylings. (They remind me a bit of the more bluegrassy Dixie Chicks songs.) Before you ask, I’m with Her had their name before it was used in the Hillary campaign and is meant to convey that the three are making music together, complementing their respective solo careers.
I owe the find to a combination of internet browsing and Serv’s blog. Serv posted a video of Mary Chapin Carpenter singing “The Bug”, which lead me to wonder what MCC has been up to. I came across some performances on YouTube from the really cool Transatlantic Sessions, recorded in Scotland and broadcast on BBC Four, which have brought together folk musicians from both sides of the Atlantic. There were videos of MCC singing with Irish-American singer Aoife O’Donovan and of bluegrass artist Alison Krauss singing with the young, accomplished Sarah Jarosz. I hadn’t heard of O’Donovan or Jarosz, both of whom impressed me, but on further searching I found that these two solo artists had recently joined together as a musical group with fellow Grammy-winner Sara Watkins and released an album, which I promptly bought and put into constant rotation on iTunes. And as luck would have it, I’m with Her was going to be playing in Vancouver!
I bought myself a front row side balcony seat, with some belated birthday money from my in-laws. I decided to go alone so that I could immerse myself in the experience without having to worry if my husband was okay (as it’s not his kind of music). The venue is on the campus of the University of British Columbia, far from my house but worth the drive. The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts is designed for optimum acoustics, with the high ceiling allowing the sound to fill the room. The three musicians had a combined ten instruments waiting behind them, comprised of fiddle, ukulele, and guitar, and they traded them back and forth throughout the show. When the singers stepped up to the microphones, I was a bit disappointed because in the shows I’d seen on-line, they had sung into one mic together. But the sound was fantastic. I sipped my wine, got lost in the music and the harmonies, and forgot about the stress of day-to-day life for a couple of hours. I really love bluegrass sounds, and in fact this combination of bluegrass, folk, country, roots is what I really would have liked to have been singing if I hadn’t instead pursued my “career to fall back on”. (I only felt sad for a moment while listening.) Bluegrass vocals have a unique style with certain notes pushed out more forcefully than others, and it made me feel for the sound technician — it must be hard to maintain consistency in volume.
This group is truly about singing together and letting the music decide who will sing the lead on a particular song. They wrote the songs collaboratively, resulting in a well-balanced album and set. It was clear how much they were reveling in the beautiful sounds they were making together, with no hint of ego. And the sounds truly were beautiful, with the singers recreating the songs from the album so perfectly, as well as throwing in some John Hiatt and Bob Dylan tunes. And I was really pleased a little later when they all finally stepped to the front of the stage and sang together into one mic. On one of the songs, their voices blended so well that you could hear harmonics, or another note vibrating over the three voices. So cool. For the very last encore, they decided to do a song with no amplification at all in order to really make use of the wonderful acoustics. The audience barely breathed as we listened to the vocals start quietly building to soaring notes that swirled around us.
I really enjoyed my escape from the daily grind… right up until the point where I turned into a pumpkin (i.e. had to drive from the concert straight to my son’s hockey)!
Here are a couple of videos of I’m with Her, the first for Adele fans (with Paul Kowert on double bass) and the second being an NPR performance that gives a good idea of the concert experience and shows off the bluegrass feel to the vocals and instruments.