Playing together in their Memphis high school, after graduation Holly Cole (guitars, vocals) Jana Misener (cello, vocals), and Krista Wroten (viola, mandolin, accordion, vocals) went their various separate ways to LA, Chicago and Boston before eventually returning home and becoming involved in the local music scene. During the course of Cole’s solo and band work, their paths crossed again and, in 2010, the trio Memphis Dawls was born, Dawls pronounced Dolls and southern slang for a girl.
The following year they released their debut EP and, encouraged by the response, they set about working up their debut album, sketching things out at Sun Studios before setting up camp at Ardent in 2014, enlisting the likes of Memphis sessioneers Dave Cousar and Ben Aviotti on guitars, Wilco percussionist Ken Coomer and Mississippi pedal steel player Richard Ford among the backing band.
The result is Rooted In The Bone – one of the year’s most engaging and rewarding collections of folk-Americana, one that flows fluidly between styles and genres, all bound together by the immaculate harmonies and lead vocal spotlights. Things kick off with the aching Please Don’t Leave Me Now, flowing on chamber-folk strings and guitars before, evocative of Love’s You Set The Scene, trumpet takes over for the finale. This gives way to the equally leisurely Skin Like A Cage, although the off-beat drumming adds an unusual and interesting edge before, tremolo guitar and pedal steel take to the fore. The Law picks up the tempo for a train-chugging country rhythm as the girls harmonies ride the rails. Elsewhere, contrasts are drawn with the slow, organ-backed 60s soul of Liar (which reminds me of I’d Rather Go Blind), the country-gospel bouncing Where’d You Go My Love with its fat jazzy New Orleans horns, the waltzing mandolin-led Shoot ‘Em Down coloured by Nahshon Benford’s mariachi-style trumpet fills, Ride Alone’s open-prairie feel and a melody that sounds like a wearied incarnation of Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the dark-hued, lurching, bluesy and cello-laden Shadow In The Room.
Misener’s cello also underpins the wonderful, crooningly melancholic Starting Gate on which the trio’s harmonies are the very definition of the sublime while it’s all stripped back to plucked violin and brushed snare for the closing Wait For You To Heal, an instant country classic about not holding on to anger lest it tear you apart which references Hey Jude and puts me in mind of Emmylou singing Till I Gain Control Again, only even more heavenly and heartbreaking. They’ve said that their inspirational template was to emulate the Harris, Parton and Ronstadt collaborations, on this evidence I’d say they’ve easily surpassed their ambitions.
Review by: Mike Davies
Order via Amazon