Sisters Chloe and Leah Smith are the duo Rising Appalachia.
Both the new English band Astronauts and the New Orleans-based sister duo Rising Appalachia offer delightful CDs for harvesting this fall season. These treasures are guaranteed to bring enjoyment and wonder as they enhance your music collection.
Rising Appalachia is an independent musical group led by sisters Chloe and Leah Smith, who come from the Altanta, Georgia, area but who now live in New Orleans. Based on extensive world travels, they sing stories about the struggles of humanity, our roles as custodians of the earth, and the healing power of music and connection. Their rich harmonies embody elements of world music, folk, and soul, all brought to life by banjos, fiddles, didgeridoo, tablas, spoons, and washboards.
They collaborate with a variety of international musicians such as Imhotep, Biko Casini, and Forrest Kelly on percussion, David Brown on guitars, and Abram Racin on double bass.
Chloe and Leah appear on stage with tattoos, necklaces, and handcrafted accessories, a refined throwback to hippie culture.
Raised on traditional Appalachian string band music and influenced by urban, hip-hop, world, and jazz genres, the Smith sisters write simple, elegant songs that become journeys in harmony, contemporary beats, and improvisational nuance.
Perhaps their most dazzling work can be found on Soul Visions (2013), featuring a magical synergy with the Human Experience, a.k.a. David Block, an impressive young electronic musician. I recommend these tracks from Soul Visions:
• “Swoon” is performed twice by name, but really plays like a two-part piece. On the acoustic version, two guitars weave the fabric of themes for the second part, which opens up with sultry, soul-inspired female vocals enhanced by Block’s subtle, artful electronic highlights.
• “Pretty Little Foot” travels firmly into the Appalachian hills with hand-clapping and mandolin plucking. Imagine yourself in eastern Tennessee in the Blue Ridge Mountains peering through the mist.
• “Downtown” starts with jazz lines from an upright bass and quickly moves into soul and hip-hop grooves. Shuffle along the sidewalk, attitude in step. Oh, yeah!
•“Sunu” is the perfect blend of banjo, female harmonies, and a delightful muted-trumpet solo.
On their collected library, the Smith sisters make a statement that they prefer artistic collective collaboration over record-label contracts. On Soul Visions, they may just have proved their point.
Astronauts’ CD Hollow Ponds, described by Tibor Beetles as “one of those records to just sit with and soak up,” was conceived during Dan Carney’s time in the Epping Forest while undergoing rehab from a broken leg.
Carney, former lead man from Dark Captain, takes a familiar approach with open-tuned acoustic guitars, soft vocals, and instrumental soundscapes similar to Sweden’s Jose Gonzalez. But on Hollow Ponds, Carney introduces clarinet, cello, and electronic elements. Start with these tracks.
• “Hollow Ponds” begins with four minutes of ambient electronic music with incrementally added piano, cello, and soft percussion. The vocals repeat pleasantly in rounds until the echoing ring of electronic keys brings the final resolution.
• “In My Direction” begins with an instrumental invocation, bringing in vocals that remind me of the late 1960s UK band Caravan. The mood moves forward with simplicity and yearning.
• “Everything’s a System, Everything’s a Sign” and “Skydive” further reinforce Carney’s knack for blending soft percussion, acoustic guitar, and vocals. As a curious exercise in resonance, listen to “Skydive” and then to Paul McCartney’s “Watercolour Guitars” from the album Rushes.
Join Andy on Fringe Toast every Wednesday, 8-10 p.m., Central Standard Time, on KRUU FM 100.1 in Fairfield, Iowa.