The Harpeth should be sinking by now, it has taken me so long to get to writing this, but it is through no fault of the group or album. I somehow was waylaid by life and now that I am playing catch-up I find that I must needs traverse further than I thought for these ladies (they are, essentially, a three-woman folk group--- or Americana, if you prefer) have five--- count them--- FIVE!--- albums before “Shifted” and me here with a mountain of albums to listen to and/or review. After hearing “Shifted” I will surely backtrack, though it may take time, for this trio not only have voices which work very well together but they have instrumental chops as well.
Their music lives somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line in terms of direction, centered (whether they admit it or not) in the folk traditions of groups like The Brothers Four and the Kingston Trio. They are storytellers and gypsies and even Disney-like spokesmen for the past, the present and the future. They sing of people and emotions and times gone by as well as times to come. They are specific yet vague. They allow the listener to make of their songs what they will. If you lived in the fifties and sixties, you will understand. We all hung down our heads with Tom Dooley but we knew it was more than that.
They trip around genres, for sure, as it says in their bio--- quote: “Unapologetic genre-benders, (Harpeth Rising) fuse Folk, Newgrass, Rock, and Classical into a sound that is organically unique.” But there is more there than that. Their influences step way beyond those and include Gypsy, Jazz, Country (the real Country and not that crap Nashville has been pumping out for the past number of years) and dip into the thirties and forties here and there.
For instance, “Proof” nods toward the UK trad folk movement of the mid-seventies, though they stop short of making it obvious. “The Borderline” uses a fiddle/banjo combo along with duel harmonies to sing a song as Americana as I've heard, not quite folk and not quite country, though the harmonies at certain moments have that old country vocal group sound. “Seven Thunders” falls within the Disney range, the song telling a story a la “Zorro” or any one the many musical characters ol' Walt brought to us. “Dance Me To the End of Love” could have been sung in a cabaret or Moroccan nightclub by an Edith Piaf or Marlene Dietrich in an old thirties movie, and “Rollin' To You” would be pure country rock if they changed the instrumentation to electric guitars and maybe keyboards.
Listening to this I am struck by how really good they could be live. There is a spirit in their songs and performances which are as theatrical at times as they are musical. The really good bands do that--- put you on the edge of your seat. That's why so many musicians say that live is best.
The sound. Ah, yes--- the sound. It is immediate and more than likely was recorded to be just that. Have you ever played a record and swore the band was right there with you? In your living room? This is as close as it gets. In between songs I almost expect them to start talking--- introducing songs or something. Asking for water or a beer. Telling a story or a joke. I don't know how those engineers do it, but whoever engineered this puppy has it down.
I suggest that anyone interested click their way through to their site and read/listen for themselves. This is the kind of band you either track down yourself or stumble upon at a small theater or club, wondering why you had never heard of them. Harpeth Rising. Interesting name. They say they named themselves after a river. Most likely the Harpeth River. Five feet high and rising.
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