What better way to start a new year than with the release of a gorgeous comeback album from one of Americana's finest harmony trios. It's been six years since Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse gathered around a microphone together, but, as per the album title, they've reunited to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their musical partnership, and have put together a superb collection of covers to do so.
Their spine-tingling a capella three part harmonies are showcased from the start with a 30s era styled interpretation of the English traditional 'Old Churchyard', a subtle background drone accentuating the hymnal nature of the vocals. Moody picks up the banjo while Adam Dobres contributes mandolin and Adrian Dolan fiddle to a simple, plaintive full band take on Tom Petty's 'Wildflowers', investing it with a quality all their own. Jane Siberry's spiritual 'The Valley' is perhaps a more obscure choice, but with the girls trading off lead vocals and Richard Moody gracing it with gentle viola and violin caresses, it shimmers with beauty.
A Dolly Parton classic, the trio was commissioned to record 'Light of the Clear Blue Morning' for an independent Canadian film called 'The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom', the arrangement providing the album's second unaccompanied diamond. By way of a stylistic shift, the trio's frequently serious musical mien gets a nudge in the ribs as they lighten up on a terrific a capella gender rework of Paul Simon's 'Loves Me Like A Rock' with finger click and foot stamp percussion that digs out the song's inherent gospel vibe.
From one standout to another, Ruth straps on the acoustic guitar and Richard's melancholic mandolin for a yearningly emotive reading of Emmylou Harris's heartaching love song to the late Gram Parsons, 'Boulder To Birmingham'. Chosen, like the Simon track, by Heather, Patty Griffin's 'Not Alone' charts a similar theme of lost love, albeit tinged with the light of hope, Moody's achingly mournful viola and Dobres electric guitar affording a sympathetic accompaniment to the gentle vocals.
Written when he was dying of cancer, Warren Zevon's 'Keep Me In Your Heart' has a particular poignant resonance, Dobres, Moody and upright bassist Sam Howard providing the understated string arrangement to complement the bittersweet nature of the vocals.
Bringing things full circle, they close with an a capella version of Hank Williams' 'Weary Blues From Waitin'', a reprise of one of the first three songs they ever sang together, back when Ruth and Nicky met Heather at the World Café in Philadelphia and checked out their vocal blend in a locked public toilet. Enjoy at your earliest convenience.
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