Nerissa & Katryna Nields,
Sister Holler
(Mercy House, 2007)

"Good artists borrow; great artists steal," says Nerissa Nields, referring in part to the folk process in general and in part to how, on this new album, the two sisters aren't performing 100 percent original material. For years, she states, she did her best to avoid borrowing material, but now she claims to be "recycling" music and merely following the footsteps of earlier performers who borrowed and stole, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Simon & Garfunkel. Here, Nerissa and Katryna have taken older songs and re-worked some of them to the extent that the original is hard to decipher, whilst others sound more like variants of certain traditional/spiritual music.

It's easy to tell that we're in a different world for the Nields with the album's opening track, "Leave That Trouble Alone," on which the Nields go gospel and/or to Appalachia. It's not what one might expect from the Nields, but it works. There's something about the way the two sisters' voices weave about each other that makes the sound earnest, and the addition of Ben Demerath's backing vocals, along with those of Pete and Maura Kennedy, add to its authenticity. It's also particularly well suited to the sisters' famous vibrato. As Katryna hits the highest notes, she may just be reaching up to heaven itself.

Another spiritual, "Ain't That Good News" (with the Primate Fiasco jamming on trumpet, banjo, clarinet and tuba), a song that, according to the CD booklet, the sisters learned in high school, takes on a New Orleans-style flourish that sounds even more poignant with the song's line "my home on earth has been washed away."

Traditional British and Irish music are covered with numbers such as "Who Will Shoe My Pretty Foot," "Moonlighter" (Nerissa admits it's taken from the traditional "Moonshiner") and "We'll Plant an Oak," which comes across as a variant of "The Water is Wide." The Nields' interpretations of these songs make them seem more Americana than traditional Celtic. "Who Will Shoe My Pretty Foot" has such an upbeat swing that it makes me want to dance in my chair as I type. Far gentler is their take on "Scarborough Fair," "Abington Sea Fair." "We'll Plant an Oak," the closing song, maintains a bit of its original's feeling, but Dave Chalfont's lap steel guitar, along with the thoughtful, almost plaintive vocals, plant the number firmly in alt-country territory.

But it's not all Appalachia and Americana. "The Endless Day," even with its very subtle Pachelbel's Canon in D theme in the background, really hearkens back to days of the Nields five-piece band in the '90s. It's light and feel-good, with a fun beat that seems more Nields than Pachelbel, or even more "Penny Lane" Beatles era.

If you're looking for the more rock-oriented Nields' sound from Gotta Get Over Greta, this release may not be for you. However, it's an album that has allowed the sisters to get back to various roots. If nothing else, it's given Nerissa a chance to adapt various musical standards and give them the magical Nields' treatment.

review by
Ellen Rawson

1 September 2007

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