Three of folk music’s most progressive and distinctive artists join forces as I’m With Her | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Three of folk music’s most progressive and distinctive artists join forces as I’m With Her


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The communal traditions of folk music encourage musicians to play together in the most casual settings—a common repertoire can erase the issues of learning a song so that singers and players can instantly focus on melding their talents. Such gatherings can lead to more sustained partnerships, which is certainly the case with I’m With Her, a dazzling trio featuring three of the most distinctive and thoughtful figures in contemporary folk and sophisticated pop: Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. These days the phrase “I’m with her” immediately connotes Hillary Clinton, but the musicians had been playing together for 18 months before the politician unwittingly borrowed their name as the slogan for her 2016 presidential campaign. Jarosz, O’Donovan, and Watkins are all strong writers and singers, and while I wouldn’t say the music on their debut album, See You Around (Rounder), delivers more than the sum of its parts, it reveals an infectious collaborative spirit that balances the musicians’ vibrant personalities without muting any one of them. The songwriters wrote all 12 songs together, and their attack shifts from one to the next: “Game to Lose” embraces the prog-bluegrass sound purveyed by Watkins’s Nickel Creek bandmate Chris Thile in the Punch Brothers, the instrumental “Waitsfield” melds Celtic flavor with a bluegrass picking session, and “Wild One” shimmers with a gorgeous pop melody and gossamer vocal harmonies. Those harmonies pervade just about every track—a connective tissue testifying to a common purpose. The songs’ subject matter is less remarkable, even though the lyrics are well crafted: “Overland” is a classic road tune about leaving one’s home behind in search of greener pastures; “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree)” is a sweet love ballad, with the narrator gently explaining her seductive plot; and “Pangaea” offers hopeful existentialism. Each of these women has delivered stronger music on her own, so I don’t expect I’m With Her to become a primary vehicle, but with See You Around they’ve proven that this project’s anything but a trifle.   v

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