Third Man Records has become a beautiful alchemy of sounds that never allows itself to get comfortable in any one genre. It embraces virtually anything that strokes a musical itch, business sense be damned. While American folk and roots music have been seeing a strong revival over the last few years and even garnering some major awards acclaim, they aren’t exactly putting label ledgers into the black on the whole. The label has issued a number of 45s and LPs in the folk realm over the course of its existence, and it’s nice to see The Haden Triplets get their turn.
Over a baker’s dozen tracks, the trio explores a bevy of country and bluegrass music’s greatest songwriters including A.P. Carter, The Louvin Brothers and Bill Monroe to name a few. From end to end the album leans upon primarily acoustic instrumentation that pays homage to the way the tunes were originally intended to back up the close harmonies of Tanya, Rachel and Petra Haden. Tying the package together is Ry Cooder, a maven of U.S. roots music, to produce the sessions of the triplets’ self-titled album.
The album is generally a successful venture with the likes of the triplets’ take on Webb Pierce/Tommy Hill classic “Slowly” that winds its way through time with its Grand Ole Opry-like beginning and Wilson Phillips-like closing. As soon as the second track starts, however, they are right back in Nashville with their take on the Carter Family classic “Single Girl, Married Girl,” the lead single.
“Memories Of Mother And Dad” is the strongest interpretation on the set. Graced with a dirty acoustic guitar that sweats with urgency as the group sings on the opening, it easily could have fit in on the amazing O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. As the song progresses, a wonderful bass line ensues while the harmonies continue and are joined by well-placed fiddle work. Another rewarding cover is “Voice From On High,” made popular by Bill Monroe, with its lovely marriage of gospel and country in waltz format. The ladies periodically break for individual lines as the other two continue to lay vocal groundwork (a technique also utilized elsewhere such as “Billy Bee” and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”). It’s a welcome departure from the almost-too-close harmonizing that sometimes overwhelms the record.
If you haven’t heard a peep from the album, a promo video teaser walks you through a behind-the-scenes look at the sessions.
An album like The Haden Triplets is important in 2014 because it brings to light modern readings of great songwriting that is too often missing with today’s music. It’s well-played, well-sung and well-assembled—joyous without being overly pristine. As the album closes on yet another song from The Carter Family (“Oh, Take Me Back”), it shows how much can be packed into less than three minutes of music. Each note has a purpose, and every musician playing or singing is doing a magnificent job bringing it to life.