A few weeks ago, I went over to my bandmate Katie’s place to share a nice bottle of wine and a loaf of rosemary bread. The air was humid and summertime bugs had just started to hum. As we walked outside to a picnic table, Katie said, “Oh, I just love this. It reminds me of home.” She’s from New Jersey, and her house is close to the shore. Unlike me, a native Texan, she prefers the air to be thick and heavy and damp.
Not long after, Katie’s brother Danny and another New Jersey friend, Chris, came to join us at the table. Danny and Chris are also musicians, and they brought guitars outside to play along with whatever song came on shuffle. It turned into one of those nights where we talked about nothing in particular yet small bubbles of meaning came to the surface. A song by Fleet Foxes came on, and I mentioned how much I loved the singer’s voice. And then we started talking about their ethereal harmonies. I said, “Beautiful harmonies make me cry, especially when it’s a live performance.” Does that happen to anyone else? For me, when I hear a harmony, the sound of it hits me in the gut, and all of a sudden I’m tearing up.
This prompted Katie to ask the table, “When’s the last time you cried at a show?”
Katie wept the first time she saw Jeff Mangum play a set after a ten-year hiatus. Danny said he teared up a little when we all went to see Neutral Milk Hotel. Chris told us string instruments make him weepy. I could remember two times I’d cried. Once when I went to see The Staves, and once when I saw Eisley. Something they both have in common? Sister harmonies.
During SXSW madness, I heard of a band called Joseph and was surprised to find that with a name like that, it was actually three sisters from the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see them, but due to my weakness for sister harmonies, I had to give them a listen.
As I’m sure you’ve pieced together since I’m writing about them for our Song of the Week, I was not disappointed. I was 100% not disappointed.
“Tell Me There’s a Garden” is the third track off their debut album, “Native Dreamer Kin.” It was difficult to select which song I wanted to talk about because they’re all so lovely, but this one, in particular, caught my attention. Their voices come in almost immediately with an intricate, complex, three-part harmony. They sing, “We buried a seed underneath the ground. We waited to see if the rain would come down.” In these few words, they roll through fast little dips and falls. There’s a crescendo on the word “see” that is so beautifully exquisite.
At the beginning of the song, their voices are restrained and gentle, and then suddenly they burst out with strength and purpose. But so quickly, they slip back into a lullaby-like whispery-sweet way of singing.
Here’s a gorgeous video of them singing the song live.
See what I mean? I regret not seeing them during SXSW. I probably would’ve cried.
If you enjoy “Tell Me There’s a Garden” by Joseph, you might also like “Wind” and “Tally Marks.”