THE SHORT SISTERS
Black Socks Press
I really like what happens when three talented women singers come together in glorious harmony. Groups like the Wailin’ Jennys, the Good Lovelies, Herdman, Hills & Mangsen (Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen) and the Marigolds – all of them very different in sound and repertoire – are quite wonderful with what they do with a song.
Along with the groups mentioned above, the Short Sisters are one of my all-time favorite trios of harmonizing women. They’ve been singing together since 1979, but Downsized is just their fifth album and their first since 2002 – and like its predecessors, the CD is a treat from the first song to the last. In fact, the opening paragraph I wrote 11 years ago for my Sing Out! magazine review of their previous album, Love and Transportation, is just as applicable to Downsized:
“The Short Sisters – Fay Baird, Kate Seeger and Kim Wallach – are not real sisters. However, when their voices combine in sweet harmony on this set of traditional and contemporary songs drawn from a variety of sources, they sure do sound like siblings who have been harmonizing for a lifetime. It is also obvious that they have chosen and arranged these songs, to borrow a phrase from the late Townes Van Zandt, simply for the sake of the song and the joy of singing. When they’re not singing a cappella, the Short Sisters keep the arrangements tasteful and simple, acoustic guitars played by Kim and Kate, banjo by Fay and occasionally, some very nice harmonica work by Dean Spencer.”
The only thing I need to add is that Kate also plays autoharp on a couple of songs on the new album.
While all 16 songs in the hour-long set are delightful, a few of my favorites include “The Vikings,” a satirical tune by Jez Lowe (perhaps my very favorite British songwriter), a beautiful version “Ca’ the Yowes,” a Scottish song written or collected by Robert Burns, Kim’s “Home in Old New Jersey,” a delightfully arranged nostalgic piece about the state she grew up in, and “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt,” Otis Jackson’s tribute to the president who introduced the New Deal (this is the song my friend Jesse Winchester rewrote about 40 years ago to also pay tribute to the Canadian politicians whose policies allowed safe haven for Vietnam War resistors).
I was also delighted to hear the Short Sisters’ version of “Upon Finding Just One,” a terrific round written by my neighborhood pal Ann Downey, the traditional “Goin’ Down to Tampa,” and Lester Simpson’s “Twenty-Four Seven,” a labor song for these times we’re living in.