There's no denying the incredible individual abilities of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan and Sara Watkins, the three acoustic music powerhouses behind the supergroup I'm With Her. Both as solo artists and as members of revered groups like Nickel Creek (Watkins) and Crooked Still (O'Donovan), these ladies are recognized as some of the finest songwriters and performers in Americana music.
Still, questions remained about their collaborative work. Would the sum be greater than the parts? With the release of the band's full-length debut, "See You Around," the answer is a resounding yes.
Co-produced by Ethan Johns, the 12 songs confirm what previously released EPs and singles only hinted at - this trio is a fully-formed unit that gels both vocally and as songwriters.
The vocal harmonies are incredibly tight, captivating and diverse. On "Game To Lose," the ladies alternate between lush passages and staccato, almost percussive, runs that match the interplay between guitar/mandolin and fiddle and propel the song forward. With "I-89" the vocals are more intense - a spirited delivery that matches the "fire in my belly" described by the narrator. The languid "Wild One" affords the trio an opportunity to create a haunting mood with their voices - one that is enhanced by the sparse acoustic accompaniment.
"See You Around" is not simply a vocal showcase. The ladies get playful on "Waitsfield," a lively little instrumental that gets more enjoyable as the tempo increases in the song's later stages.
Johns and the group made some great production choices. The songs were recorded live with all three artists performing in a small space together, resulting in one of the more intimate recordings you are likely to hear. With songs like the coyly hushed "Ryland (Under The Apple Tree)" and the retro travel ballad "Overland," the listener feels like they are sitting mere feet from Jarosz, O'Donovan, and Watkins as they share a single mic - quite lovely stuff.
I'm With Her brings the album to a fitting close with the mostly a cappella "Hundred Miles," a song written by Gillian Welch. The emotion, power, and control of the vocals, combined with a tasteful acoustic arrangement, offers a nice snapshot of what makes this entire album memorable.