“See You Around” by I’m With Her – Review
Review by Sean Bailey
Writing a review of a band’s first album is a difficult balancing act of music critique and analysis of the band itself. In light of that, it’s interesting that the all-female folk trio I’m With Her has been making music since 2014 and count a few singles and an EP among their releases. However, February’s “See You Around” is their first full-length studio album. The three members of the band, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, fill many musical roles on this record; each member plays guitar and sings, additionally featuring Watkins on fiddle and ukulele, Jarosz playing mandolin and banjo, and O’Donovan contributing piano and synthesizer parts.
Female-fronted alt-country and folk groups are decidedly part of the zeitgeist, with bands like First Aid Kit, the Wailin’ Jennys, and the Staves coming immediately to mind. Only one thing ties this grouping together and sets it apart from other players and groups: the subtleties of vocal harmony. Consequently, this becomes the primary modality for comparison between such groups and an easy point to begin any work of criticism thereof. Given that the members of I’m With Her are not siblings and thusly don’t possess the almost supernatural musical synergy of groups—First Aid Kit and the Staves, most notably—that have been singing together since birth, all three of their voices blend beautifully and complement each other. The album “See You Around”, when experienced from start to finish without stopping, provides an opportunity to appreciate such blending; the three vocalists each have plenty of time singing solo, and each song brings with it different combinations of their rich and subtle voices.
A few times on the record, “Crescent City” and “Hundred Miles” most significantly, the three voices will sing a few lines in perfect unison and then, holding the listener’s heart in their throat, diverge into the sweeping chords and harmonies to resolve the tension. It’s a move that requires an impressive level of synchronization; the decision by the band to track much of the album live, only a few feet from each other in the studio, surely contributed to the tight vocal harmonies and solid instrumental performance.
Beyond the exquisite, seamless vocals, there’s an incredible musical depth and variety to the songs on “See You Around”; this comes courtesy of the diverse array of instruments at the band’s disposal. Songs like “Overland”, “Wild One”, and the title track feature plenty of traditional acoustic arrangements with plucked mandolin and banjo melodies, strummed guitar chords, and winding fiddle lines; the band explores less-charted territory with the addition of Aoife O’Donovan’s synthesizers and organ on tracks like Pangaea, I-89, and the concluding track, “Hundred Miles”.
For an album that explores such a varied musical terrain, the coherence is remarkable. This is due almost entirely to the constant thread of the three voices in each track; indeed, the only place that the album feels even a little disjoint is during the bluegrass instrumental interlude, “Waitsfield”, which, despite brilliant performances by all three band members, is devoid of the luscious vocals that form the core of the band’s sound. All in all, this album is a beautiful work of art, its beauty only heightened by the sheer variety of stylistic explorations contained within.
You can catch Sean as the host of The Swing’s the Thing 8 to 10 PM on Fridays on WPTS Radio and follow them on Twitter @theonesean . This review was edited by John Wright of the WPTS Editorial Board.