thu 24/05/2018

I'm With Her, Bush Hall review - folk supergroup debut album to treasure | reviews, news & interviews

I'm With Her, Bush Hall review - folk supergroup debut album to treasure

I'm With Her, Bush Hall review - folk supergroup debut album to treasure

Four years after their first impromtu performance, the trio launch See You Around

Three women, one folk supergroup: Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan

Fresh from Celtic Connections in Glasgow, I’m With Her stepped out at Bush Hall in west London for their only England date before embarking on a major US tour. Sarah Jarosz, who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin, Aoife O’Donovan, guitar, and Sara Watkins, a mean fiddler, are being described as “a folk supergroup” – and seeing, and hearing, is indeed believing. It’s no hype: these three thirtysomething women, each with their own successful solo career, make a beautiful noise.

The concert was sadly short, little more than an hour, and served as a showcase for I’m With Her’s debut album, See You Around, recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios near Bath with Ethan Johns producing. It’s out from Rounder Records on 16 February. Order it now, because listening to it will warm you from the inside. This is unplugged Americana at its finest – perfect harmonies, beautiful instrumental work. Music from the heart by real musicians who need no studio trickery to make them sound good.

Each of the women has a formidable CV that features solo albums and a variety of collaborations – O’Donovan has performed with the Boston Pops and the Utah Symphony Orchestra and the Dave Douglas Quintet in addition to many rootsier collaborations, which include Crooked Still. Watkins is a founder member of Nickel Creek. Jarosz, who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, garnered a Grammy nomination with her debut album. They came together by chance, an impromptu performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2014 after years of crossing paths.

Of the 12 tracks on See You Around all but one are originals, the work on them begun “in an AirBnB in LA” and finished some time later in a house in Vermont. The exception is a Gillian Welch number, “Hundred Miles”, previously unreleased. The album is a keeper, drawing you in with its purity and honesty and spun-gold beauty – sounds I'm With Her were easily able to replicate on stage.

Individually and collectively, I’m With Her work at the crossroads of country, folk, gospel and bluegrass. Their voices blend and entwine effortlessly, matching one another breath for breath, which was especially noticeable in the a cappella moments such as “Be My Husband”, accompanied only by foot-stamping and syncopated handclaps. The lazy, bluesy “Under the Apple Tree” featured the sort of close-harmony singing that can break your heart and which those gathered round the wireless listening to the Grande Ole Opry would have heard back in the day – what Emmylou Harris has called “the feeling of the living room”.

As their forebears did on stage at the Ryman half a century ago, the three women share one (retro-looking) mic, an intimate grouping that enables each of them to watch the others carefully, interacting and picking up cues that are lost when musicians stand in a line looking out at the audience.  O’Donovan, Watkins and Jarosz are tight, musically and physically – in constant eye-contact with one another, stepping up or stepping back, depending on what’s required, their choreography answering only to the exigencies of the music. They smile, laugh with each other and joke with the audience between songs (playlists are “too millennial”), and clearly love every moment of their time together on stage. Such joy communicates to the audience.

While See You Around demonstrates I’m With Her’s collective song-writing talent, it would be wonderful if they would record some of the classics they perform at festivals and which can be found on YouTube – “The Darkest Hour” and “Adieu False Lover” for example, or the call-and-response of “Lord, Lead Me On”. Such songs were covered by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Harris, a country super-group (you might say) who came together to record Trio, a collection of standards that’s worn well and which has recently been remastered. I’m With Her could even surpass them – and they’d have little or no need of studio musicians to support them.

For now there’s just this one album. Buy it and savour the sounds of truly high-calibre singer-songwriters and musicians – and book early for I’m With Her’s late spring UK tour. Once bitten forever smitten.

Liz Thomson's website

Their voices blend and entwine effortlessly, matching one another breath for breath

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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