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Beyond bluegrass

Sister Holler
Sister Holler
By Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Mercy House: 2007

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This review first appeared in Turbula in December 2007.

In their ongoing musical journey away from the alt-rock of their early years ever deeper into American folk and bluegrass, Nerissa and Katryna Nields are crafting a body of work that deserves celebration as among the best this country has ever produced. With their new album, "Sister Holler," the Massachussetts-based duo joins the ranks of Allison Krauss, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris in creating country and bluegrass-based music that transcends the genre without abandoning it.

Actually, who they remind most of on the new outing is Joy of Cooking, the early '70s folk-jazz combo featuring the lead harmonized vocals of Terri Garthwaite and Toni Brown. Because while "Sister Holler" is far more immersed in Appalachian styles than either 2002's "Love and China" or this spring's family sing-along "All Together Singing In the Kitichen" (or anything by Joy of Cooking), the heart of the music on the new CD remains the harmonized vocals of the two sisters. Perhaps not since the Roches has there been a group with vocal harmonies both so intricate and so utterly organic, so natural.

There are times when the two sisters are harmonizing through one of Nerissa's soaring refrains that it's impossible to listen without getting goosebumps.

The end result of Nerissa's breathtakingly lovely songwriting – her ability to contiinue growing and improving as a composer is amazing – and their singing, backed by Katryna's husband Dave Chalfant's solid playing on guitar and bass is one of those rare albums that gets better each time you listen, that crawls inside your head and becomes part of you so that rather than growing on you, it grows with you.