Archive for the ‘I’m With Her’ Category


I thought Lula Wiles was a person, but they are a trio.

Contemporary roots trio Lula Wiles shined brilliantly on Thursday night. The young band, consisting of Eleanor Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin — joined by Eli Cohen on drums — [played] a passionate mix of bluegrass, country rock and folk music.

All four members of the group grew up in Maine, and they met while taking lessons at Maine Fiddle Camp, “which I know is, like, disgustingly adorable,” Buckland remarked during the show.  All three singers are also songwriters and instrumentalists, and they displayed impressive group chemistry in several different instrumentations throughout their performance. The trio has always sounded stellar in a traditional bluegrass format — like fiddle, guitar and upright bass — but they added new dimensions to their set when they chose to break out of that format and explore other sounds.

They opened with a traditional country-sounding song, “Hometown”

Lula Wiles’ opener, the poignant “Hometown,” found Burke playing an electric guitar with plenty of added fuzz, which propelled the song forward on top of Cohen’s steady backbeat. Buckland sang three verses from the perspective of an adult returning to her beloved hometown to find her friends and family struggling to make ends meet; the song’s lens gradually moved from personal to historical. “Flip a coin and call it pride or shame / Red and white and the working blues / Welfare, warfare, laying the blame / No matter who wins, someone’s gonna lose,” she proclaimed in her third verse.

“Nashville Man” is even more country, but a more stompin’ country with lots of fiddle from Burke and old-fashioned harmonies.

The album, What Will We Do, which follows their self-titled 2016 debut, fits within the stylistic paradigms for American roots music, but the songwriters also bring personal specificity and a modern edge — they pose questions about identity, history, and the principles of justice. In a statement on Lula Wiles’ website, Obomsawin explains, “We wanted to make an album that reflected, in a current way, what we are all staying up late thinking about and talking about over drinks at the dinner table […] What is everyone worried about, confiding in their friends about, losing sleep about?”

The first two songs seemed kind of fun (musically at least), but things get more serious when Burke introduced “Shaking as It Turns,”

She explained that she had written the song following the violent neo-Nazi rallies that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

She says it’s about how she felt that summer and how I feel about what it’s like to be a person in America today.  Do you all have feeling about that.  We only have a 20-minute set or we’d expound on that longer–you’ll have to pay attention to the lyrics.

“Is this land yours? Is this land mine?” Burke solemnly wondered between plucks on her banjo. “Baby, do you know just who your enemies are?”

Musically, this was the most interesting with its percussion heavy banjo and loping beat.

Up next is the most powerful and affecting song of the night, “Good Old American Values.”

It is a country waltz on which Obomsawin sang and played a touching upright bass solo. Obomsawin, who is Native American and belongs to the Abenaki Nation, wrote the song “about growing up in a country that was built on the genocide of your people,” she explained.  She was inspired to write the song when protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline occurred on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in 2016.

She doesn’t hold back on the lyrics, and the slow melody allows the words to stand clearly.

“Indians and cowboys and saloons / It’s all history by now, and we hold the pen anyhow / drawing good old American cartoons.” Then, after a verse about “American tycoons kicking their feet up in Cancún,” the chord changes took a dark turn, leading into a steely fiddle solo by Burke. “On those good old American values / There’s a fortune to be made,” Obomsawin concluded at the end of the song.

Obomsawin also told the crowd that she has been working on an essay for the Smithsonian Center’s Folklife Magazine about her experiences growing up as a Native person in Maine — I spoke with her for a few minutes after the show about her writing. Obomsawin explained that Native people are the “most invisible” of any ethnic group in the United States, and that she wanted to write about the many ways in which she sees Native peoples’ history and culture being made invisible in the twenty-first century.

When she was growing up, she and her family were the only Native people in their community, which was predominantly white. Although she did not remember experiencing explicit discrimination, she remembered times when she felt alienated by other people in some ways that were “fetishizing” and other ways that were “just ignorant.” As she became involved in the folk music community as a young person, she realized that the culture of American folk music bears a legacy of using Native tropes in songs and performances — especially Native clothing and images of Native people. These forms of cultural appropriation by white musicians are sometimes so ubiquitous, she noted, that many people don’t even notice they are happening. Obomsawin concluded by saying that when Smithsonian Folklife publishes her piece later this year, she hopes people will “read it with an open mind,” because sometimes Native peoples’ critiques of American culture are “so fundamental,” and they lead so deep down to the core of our country’s history, that they challenge our deepest notions of American identity.

The final song of the night is “Love Gone Wrong” the first track on the new record.  It’s a more rocking song with a nice guitar sound a great harmonies that reminds me of I’m With Her.  This song is a

vulnerable reconciliation about an imperfect romance. “What you got left when the flicker dies out? / Tell me what we’re gonna do now?” Burke and Buckland asked together. After the second chorus, the song suddenly turned slow and brooding as Cohen’s drums began to thunder. “There’s never gonna be a right time,” all three singers cried out together, their close three-part harmonies at their boldest and brightest.

That shift in tempo makes the song so much more dramatic.  It is a great set-ender.

[READ: May 22, 2019] “Enough”

This is a short story of a woman’s life.

The story begins with her as a young girl, the youngest of six, whose job it was to clean the plates after Sunday meals.  Each Sunday was a feast topped off by dessert. Every fourth Sunday was ice cream, the day she loved best.

She would bring in two dishes at a time (it was the good china) and proceed to lick the bowls clean from rim to rim.  She also delighted in the ice cream in her own bowl, but was always told not to be so unladlylike in her enjoyment.

When she got older, she developed “the problem with the couch.”  The problem was that she kept getting caught with a boy on it.  First when she was fourteen, both children blushing brightly. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 16, 2019] I’m With Her

I’m with Her is something of a folk and bluegrass supergroup made up of Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins.  I knew each of them from previous Tiny Desk Concerts and knew I’m With Her from a Tiny Desk Concert as well.

I was pretty excited to see them as both Sara and Sarah were on my list of artists that I wanted to see live (I was otherwise unfamiliar with Aoife).  One thing that always come up is their name–did they name themselves after the Hillary Clinton campaign?  In fact, no, the three got together and named themselves before Clinton used the slogan for her campaign.  Technically the band came first, but the Clinton campaign didn’t take it from them either, evidently–coincidental naming.  The band says that the exposure certainly didn’t hurt–but if it had been the other side’s campaign, they definitely would have fought it.

But on to the music.  The women sing in absolutely gorgeous harmony.  Individually, their voices are wonderful, but as they add one and then a second harmony…swoon.  They also switch instruments constantly–fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, guitar, banjo.  Everything sounds a little different. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 16, 2019] Billy Strings

I had never heard of Billy Strings before this show.  But when he was announced, the crowd was really effusive about him, which led me to think that he was well-known.  And I gather he is.  He has some 40,000 fans on his Facebook page, which is no small thing.   (Interestingly, headliners I’m with Her have only 22,000).

So Billy Strings came out and I swear I thought he was 18 (he’s 26).  He said a friendly “Hi, folks” and proceeded to absolutely blown me away with his guitar playing.  He opened with Brown’s Ferry Blues a folk song from around 1930 and proceeded to play the heck out of his guitar.  He also sang the rather amusing lyrics in a good ‘ol drawl (he is from Michigan).

Then he surpirsed me even further by playing a Jethro Tull song (which made S. and I quite happy).   It was a rather fast-tempoed version of “Thick As a Brick” and it was wonderful.  The song segued into a guitar workout called Fishin’ Creek Blues.

He then played “Tom Dooley,” a song I never expected to hear, well, ever.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: I’M WITH HER-Tiny Desk Concert #722 (March 28, 2018).

I’m with Her is a kind of a folk supergroup comprised of Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins.  As the blurb notes:

The three singers who perform together as I’m With Her sound like sisters. It’s as if they’ve known each other all their lives and share common roots and musical memories… All three are brilliant players with an ever-shifting array of stringed instruments, guitars, ukulele, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. As I’m With Her, they know how to gather round a microphone and sing directly from their heart to yours. Purity is the brilliance behind I’m With Her.

They also share coming to the Tiny Desk:

Sara Watkins was here with Nickel Creek (2014), Watkins Family Hour (2015) and The Decemberists (2011). Sarah Jarosz was here in 2013 and Aoife O’Donovan came along with Yo Yo Ma and Chris Thile as part of the Goat Rodeo project back in 2011.

They play three songs from their debut album.

The first is “See You Around.” Sarah sings this first song.  Sarah and Aoife play guitar and Sara is playing an oversized ukulele.  At the end of each section their harmonies are wonderful.  It’s a really pretty song, with a great melody.  Then at around 2 minutes the song switches gears to the “shiny piece of my heart” section which changes the timbre and tone of the song.  Aoife takes over a bit and the song grows a bit darker and their voices sound more powerful.

For “Game to Lose” Sara switches to fiddle, Aoife plays Sarah’s guitar and Sarah is on mandolin.  I absolutely love the violin part and the way it plays off of the mandolin.  After a few measures, when they sing in three-part harmony from the get go….  Wow.  I love Aoife’s voice as she sings the end of the chorus, the mandolin is just fantastic and the fiddle trills are exquisite.

As they tune before the final song, Bob asks how many instruments they brought….  The answer is, a lot.  And they couldn’t leave without some banjo.  Then Aoife asks about the pink lemonade gummy bunny.  Bob says people leave random things.  You’re welcome to leave something too.  Aoife says, “I thought you were going to say I was welcome to eat it.”

Sarah says I feel like we’re just settling in, I wish we could play all day (and so do I!).

For the final song, “Overland” Sarah switches to banjo. Aoife has the same guitar and Sara is on guitar too.   Sara sniffs a few times and then deadpans, “Sorry I’ve got a coke problem, it keeps sneaking up on me.”  Everyone laughs and Sarah cracks up.  Bob says we’ll just have to loop that and Sara says, “we need some scandal.”

The song begins with Sara on lead vocals and Sarah’s banjo.  It is the most country sounding of the three (which surprises a bit since I don’t think of Sara’s voice as sounding like that).  But again, it’s the harmonies that are huge.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Chicken Winchell”

This story was published in Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty, although as with most of William’s pieces I don’t remember it at all.

This story, which is half a page long, mentions three women characters and then uses “she” for the rest.  So I’m not sure which “she” is being spoken about.  There’s a waitress, a daughter and a mother.  The waitress wonders why the daughter never returned.  But apparently she did.

The mother confides in the waitress. (more…)

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