Joseph: Trio of sisters bring Native Dreamer Kin

by Scot Casey

Deep in the heart of the band Joseph’s music is an eerie and beautiful spirituality, reminiscent of the haunting backwoods harmonies of the Carter Family and resonate with the echoes of ancient English and Irish folk song. Joseph is a band of three sisters from eastern Oregon celebrating kinship through music and song.

Joseph is a band of three sisters from eastern Oregon. COURTESY PHOTO

Joseph is a band of three sisters from eastern Oregon. COURTESY PHOTO

There is bewitching mountain mystery in the music created by the three sisters, Natalie, Allison and Meegan Closner. Joseph sings the listener back into the essential elements of music; the lyrics as spells, the melodies as enchantment, the rhythms as the primal beatings of the heart that unites kith and kin in the shared experience of what it is to be human.

On their new album, Native Dreamer Kin, Joseph has gathered in a solid collection of songs that showcase their poetic and musical sensibilities. What is immediately striking about the music is the harmonizing between the sisters. There is a natural tendency to associate them with other sisterly musical pairings such as the Dixie Chicks or Heart – and they do share some of the best qualities with them – but they are much closer to the otherworldly Sirens trio (Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch) from O Brother Where Art Thou?

In standout songs such as “Cloudline,”  “Come In Close” and “Eyes to the Sky” the three sisters perform a harmonic alchemical transmutation of word and music into shimmering epiphanies of transcendent meaning.

There is an atmospheric and evocative video online of the first song of the album, “Cloudline,” which places the sisters deep in the Northwest woods. Chiming piano and tribal drum, incense and fog drifting through the evergreen and fern, the sisters as archetypal mystery figures stepped out of the major arcana of a Pacific Northwest tarot, chanting soul choir repetitions of: “Take me to your water and lay me on your shore, I want to come in deeper but the water is so cold.” As in the presence of all great music, there is a simultaneous sense of wonder and hair-standing-on-end spookiness.

Natalie tells me that “something happened in the room as we were making “Cloudline” that was gripping and powerful. Through the process of recording and listening, we realized that the song is the story of us taking a risk with our music. That is our journey. And we want to reach up into the clouds to achieve the success this risk is taking us to.”

The music of Joseph has that unusual quality of sounding new and also as if it has been sung for a thousand years, hearkening back to a rich tradition of home spun spirituality. The hope is that they always remain true to the strangeness and idiosyncratic beauty of the family: the private jokes, inside stories, the rich red blood stronger than any water, the sweet birthing songs and the hymns sung over the graves and dying beds. But there is no real doubt here: the music of Joseph is a beautiful musical celebration of these luminous elements of lives centered in the goodness of family, harmony of place, and beauty of dreams.

When asked about the sisters’ youth and growing up, Natalie shared, “…there was a strange thing that happened where you were not supposed to ask any questions or wonder or be curious. And that is so lifeless. […] Recently, after playing so many shows, we have been trying to make it as an occasion for people to pause and reflect upon what it is to be spiritual, to engage that part of themselves through the music.”

SHOW TIME: Joseph will perform on Saturday, Jan. 10 at the Green Frog. For more about the band, see http://thebandjoseph.com.

Published in the January 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine