THE NEW GRACES
Seasons (Good Stem/MGM)
Not to be confused with classical crossover trio The Three Graces, nor with any revival of The Sullivans (though Netflix, you can have that idea for free), The New Graces are three solo performers who’ve found reasons to believe there’s quality, and not just safety, in numbers.
Kate Burke, Melanie Horsnell and Robyn Martin aren’t newcomers and that’s one key element here: they’re experienced performers with strong sense of self that at the same time gives them the confidence to blend their voices into combinations that substitute unity for ego. The other key is that they come from related but different personal traditions: Burke as a folk artist, Martin as a country artist, and Horsnell somewhere in between with a penchant for French moves.
While their harmonies and background blending are extremely attractive, and their playing across banjo, upright bass, guitar, mandolin, classical and steel guitar (with occasional support from Rod McCormack as an honorary Grace on stringed instruments) similarly strong, their choice here was to combine as support/partners rather than create a new entity.
What that means practically is that unlike, say, the similarly structured Seeker Lover Keeper – whose individual styles are similar in some ways but they also chose to switch vocalist from songwriter at times to further disguise individual contributions – these differences are upfront and unabashed.
So for example, the title track and Farmer’s Daughter, written by Martin, have not just the imagery and reference points of Australian country but the warm homeliness of the genre in both sound and her voice. Burke’s Stitch and Kameruka Nights lean into folk shapes – both English and Australian – with some of the sternness of tone that can underpin even the most tender stories, such as another of her songs, All Our Hearts. Meanwhile, Horsnell’s Let You Love Me and Quiet Town mix traditions with a kind of melodic and personal emphasis that tips the scale towards pop, while her Sugar And White Man has a European flavour in its guitar and delivery even as its harmonies that nod to Kentucky.
That’s not to say there aren’t crossovers. Horsnell’s Take A Look At My Light and Burke’s Misty are the kind of songs that could easily translate into a strong country number for an artist willing to stretch, while Martin’s Swing Low is a beautiful piece of mellow pop that shimmers and confidently throws to the gospel roots of the tune it refers to.
The upshot for me is I am more inclined to Horsnell’s and Burke’s songs than Martin’s, but that is a case of my taste rather than their quality. The bulk of the time I’m just enjoying the pleasures of their voices – solo and in combination – in songs that feel like friends almost immediately.
Like Saunders Kane and Del, some 20 years ago, and the more recent trio of Bennett Bowtell Urquhart, The New Graces drive home the point that Catholics learn at their grandmother’s knee: three-into-one can elevate and resurrect the whole.