By Cheryl Dumas. The October night that sent me out for a show at Jammin’ Java was quite a bit warmer than standard for our area, but what really warmed my heart was a young Georgia boy who I had never heard of. Hailing from Marietta, Georgia, Alex Guthrie is the kind of kid that you hope you happen upon early in his career. The satisfaction of being able to say “I saw him when…” will be abundant. This guy is headed for greatness. Twenty years old and already with 7 years of playing the guitar under his belt, Guthrie’s skill on the acoustic was impressive. His tunes, peppered with originals and covers, were vivid and energetic.
Not content to stand alone on his rich full voice, Guthrie strummed through an impressive set that included a virtuoso guitar solo in ‘Red House’. Bluesy and heartfelt, Guthrie calls to mind one of my current favorite artists, Foy Vance. Drawing on a song he recently won a songwriter’s contest with, Guthrie filled up the room with ‘Broken Man Blues’ like a pro, looping himself like every good bluesman. And of course, covering Paolo Nutini’s ‘Rewind’ showed his real skill, amping up a gentle pop song to a rolling anthem. I have my sights set on seeing him play again, and this time I will be ready.
The rest of the night was filled with the most amazing sounds of the Parkington Sisters. This quartet of sisters – Ariel, Sarah, Rose and Nora – grew up on Cape Cod playing music from their earliest years. The four women were spread out across the front of the stage in a rather non-standard arrangement and rotated through an impressive array of instruments. Clearly talented, each sister could play at least two of the assembled collection, including a piano, electric and acoustic guitars, violins, a viola and an assortment of percussion pieces.
Powerful vocals, shared amongst them all, and impossibly tight harmonies characterized this group. From the first note, you could tell that not only did they love singing together, but you were going to love listening to them. Although the instrumentation beneath their vocals was widely varied, it was never elaborate enough to distract from the women and what they were offering. Being sisters, their voices were well matched so that when switching who sang lead it was not distracting. I imagine on a recording you may not notice at all unless you paid careful attention.
The title track from their new EP ‘Inside My Head’ was such a joyful, bouncy number I couldn’t help but bop about in my seat. Equally strong were ‘September’ and ‘Shadows’. Despite having several EPs and a full length, they excelled at choosing rousing covers. Everything from Rhianna to Leadbelly got a gorgeous folk touch from them. Their biggest moment came with a Dolly Parton cover. ‘Jolene’, already a plaintive lament detailing the insecurities of love, was taken to new heights with the omnipresent four part harmony and a soaring crashing build.
Four sisters singing in a folkish style might have had the chance to slip into precious but with exceptionally adept string arrangements and well developed percussion, the Parkington Sisters avoided that hazard. What was offered up instead was a night filled with beautiful harmonies and upbeat stories from the heart.