On their third album, Sisters and Brothers, the Vespers combine Americana roots with pop melody and rock & roll muscle. It's an album about growth and discovery, about finding your place in the world — and your sound — by leaning on the support of those around you. For the Vespers, those supporters include one another.
Comprised of two pairs of siblings — the Cryar sisters and Jones brothers, all natives of Nashville, Tennessee — the Vespers began making their own kind of rootsy, southern stomp in 2009, throwing themselves into a music scene that was rich in history and high in competition. Playing as many as 115 shows a year and selling more than 10,000 copies of their second album, The Fourth Wall(2012), The Vespers found themselves at a crossroads. They could make another album of bluegrass-influenced folk music — a genre that had grown quite popular since the group's early days — or they could throw some newer influences into the mix.
"We wanted to make a new sound, something people hadn't heard from us before, and Sisters and Brothers came out of that desire," says Phoebe Cryar. Over five years, the Cryars’ and Jones' had laughed, fought, cried, smiled, learned about life and played their hearts out. Without the influence of a label or an A&R team, they'd learned to rely on each other, trusting few outside influences apart from the support of their own fans. Those fans had helped The Vespers through the hardest of times, becoming not only the band's supporters, but their family, as well. The time had come for the Vespers to make an album birthed from the ups and downs of traveling in a band, an album that focused on the great things that can happen with the support of your literal and figurative sisters and brothers.
The Vespers didn't abandon their old sound for Sisters and Brothers; they just expanded it.
"Phoebe and I were fresh out of high school when we started the band," Callie Cryar adds, thinking back to the days when they were teenagers working the 5 a.m. shift at a Nashville donut shop. "You're never more vulnerable or unconfident than you are at that time. But in the years leading up this album, we all became more comfortable with each other, with our emotions, with ourselves. We became adults, and we stared delving into some of the emotions that we wanted to make people feel. People want to feel when they listen. They want to feel something intense, and that's the kind of album we hoped to record."
Looking for the right collaborator to help them evolve, The Vespers turned to Paul Moak, a Grammy-nominated producer and accomplished songwriter who operates his own recording studio, Smoakstack, in south Nashville. Moak pushed the musicians to create music that was raw and real instead of polished and perfect. The goal wasn't to sound flawless. It was to find imperfect performances that captured a genuine moment, performances that raised the hair on everybody's arms. If a take didn't evoke that sort of response, it was scrapped.
"We used to record our vocals over and over, separately, until every single note was perfectly correct," Callie remembers. "But Sisters and Brothers was completely different. We wanted it to be raw. We realized there was more attitude and more emotion whenever Phoebe and I sang together, even with that slight element of imperfection."
"Every time you make a record, you're summing up where you've been for the last few years, says Bruno Jones. "Our band went through some challenges in those years, but we also went through a lot of growth, both onstage and off. We came out of it and realized we still cared about each other."
Bruno adds, "Sisters and Brothers is a rallying cry for the band."
Indeed, Sisters and Brothers does feel like a battle cry. It's an album about beating the system, banding together, taking care of those around you and focusing on what really counts.
Judah and the Lion
Judah and The Lion is an americana-folk band with their roots planted in Nashville, TN. Their music comes from many influences that cumulates in a blend of folk instruments, played with fresh musicianship and powerful vocal harmonies. They got their start in December of 2011 and exist to create honest and relatable music. The lead singer, Judah Akers, Banjo player, Nate Zuercher, and Mandolinist, Brian Macdonald, lead the group and are honored to play with a band of talented musicians. They love music, love life, and love people.
Sisters Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza were born within five years of each other. Raised and home-schooled by a professional songwriter father and an artist mother, they dove into music young. Hannah was first to take classical lessons on piano. Then it was Sarah on violin, Liza on harp and Eva on mandolin. Liza switched to the drums upon discovery of her passion for polyrhythm. Then in the early 2000s, they started working up and performing songs with their father. Over time, Eva stepped forward as the lead vocalist. Andrew Holbrook with SHEL became SHEL with Andrew Holbrook—and then just SHEL.
A friend of the family made a connection with Grammy-winning producer Brent Maher, an artist development guru with a long track record of hit singles and artistic breakthroughs. Over three years of unhurried experimentation and recording, SHEL completed two EPs and grew immeasurably. Now, their most complete and thought-out work to date is here in the form of a self-titled, debut album.
Nestled within SHEL’s enveloping sound, wisps of folk revival, vaudeville, renaissance fairs and steam-punk esthetic blur around one another. Allusions abound to their core influences—The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson and acoustic super-group Strength In Numbers—but you’ve never heard this before. Tracks such as “Tuscany” borrow liberally from their classical training, yet there’s nothing ponderous or unapproachable about them. “The Wise Old Owl” showcases their daring, fanciful vocal arrangements. They revel in strong dynamics, so a single song like “Stained” can grow from airy lace to a driving, white-water rush. They are richly feminine, but they don’t shy from covering Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore.” Above all, there’s variety and creativity. Pure acoustic tone is best when it’s best, but if an electric mandolin or special effect is called for, they let the song dictate the production.
SHEL has achieved many benchmarks that point to a full and fruitful career ahead. They’ve played public radio’s Etown, Echoes, South by Southwest, Nashville’s Music City Roots, Lilith Fair and numerous other distinguished festivals. In addition, they have songs in national television ad campaigns for Splenda, Glade and a song featured in CBS series, Jersey Girl. One does not have to be floating on the updraft of their blended voices to predict a bright future for SHEL.