Alternative folk group
Imagine an old-time folk band fronted by three women, and also influenced by jazz, soul, and punk, and you have Po' Girl. Formed in 2003 in the midst of a vibrant Canadian folk revival, Trish Klein and Allison Russell were soon joined by Diona Davies, turning a part-time duo into a committed, innovative trio. Close collaboration between the three performers on songs and arrangements resulted in a carefully textured sound that referred to traditional folk music without ever attempting to copy it. In 2003 critics warmly greeted Klein and Russell's self-titled debut; in 2004, critics marveled once again at the breadth of the band's material on Vagabond Lullabies. Like the Be Good Tanyas, of whom Klein was a founding member, and HEM, Po' Girl soon established a loyal following and garnered positive reviews. "It's the lazy sway of Po' Girl's music, a hypnotic and humid sway that's hard to resist," wrote David Jeffries in All Music Guide.
Klein formed Po' Girl in 2003 when Be Good Tanya's member Frazey Ford took maternity leave. She also hoped that a new band would provide her with more room to compose and sing her own songs. Klein told Douglas Heselgrave in the Music Box, "I [now] do more arrangement and musical accompaniment. I think that I was really repressed in [the Be Good Tanyas], in terms of whether it was okay to contribute." She and Russell had jammed together as far back as 2000, but both were committed to other bands at the time. As a founding member of the Be Good Tanyas, Klein was busy with the group's first album and touring, while Russell worked with Fear of Drinking. The duo, christened as Po' Girl, were soon in the studio recording their self-titled debut.
Although Nettwerk, the Be Good Tanyas' label, offered to release Po' Girl in 2003, Klein and Russell opted to issue the recording on Jack Schuller's Jericho. "It's nice to be able to call someone up when you need to work on something," Klein told Heselgrave. "They're local and easy to reach." The album was released in the United States on HighTone Records. The simple loose arrangements and harmony of Po Girl was similar in style to the Be Good Tanyas, but Klein and Russell were able to develop their own approach. Klein's ability to switch between the banjo and guitar gave the duo versatility; Russell's soulful vocals, often described as a cross between Tracy Chapman and Natalie Merchant, and her clarinet and pennywhistle work, also helped define Po' Girl's distinct sound. Klein explained the difference between Po' Girl and the Be Good Tanyas to Paul Sexton in the London Times as "different people, different songs."
When they embarked on a summer tour following the band's debut, Klein and Russell decided to add a third member. While Klein was familiar with Davies's skill as a fiddler, they had only met briefly. "I managed to get her e-mail, and I was talking to Allison about her as if I knew her really well," Klein told Heselgrave, "and said, 'wouldn't it be nice if we could meet another girl to play some of the other instruments?'" Davies played fiddle and piano, and had studied at the Royal Conservatory in Victoria, British Columbia, for two years. Klein emailed Davies, inviting her to join the tour. Po' Girl also added a bass player and a drummer for the tour.
In 2004 an expanded Po' Girl, supplemented by many friends, entered the studio a second time. As with the first album, the group built their sound by combining harmony, spare arrangements, and unusual instrument choices. Songs like Klein's "Mercy" created a loose, relaxed groove, while Russell's "Movin' On" added a resonant, soulful quality. One of the most noted additions on the new album was C.R. Avery's contribution to "Take the Long Way" and "Driving." The compositions opened up for Avery's word poems consisting of a barrage of images and references. Guest appearances also graced a number of the tracks on Vagabond Lullabies. Frazey Ford and Sam Parton from the Be Good Tanyas added harmony, as did folk-punk performer Ani DiFranco. Produced by the band with John Raham, Vagabond Lullabies showed the band growing in new and exciting directions. This time, Po' Girl chose to release the album on Nettwerk, affording the release a wider distribution.
Critics gave Vagabond Lullabies an upbeat reception. "This is a sweet little gem showcasing some of the finest acoustic musicians Canada currently has to offer," wrote Sue Keogh of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Avery's contributions were likewise noted. "Hip hop poet C.R. Avery effectively adds spoken word passages to a couple of songs," wrote Mike Regenstreif in Sing Out!. In 2004 Po' Girl also embarked on 13-date tour of England that included a three-day festival in Glasgow. "Anyone who liked the Tanyas," wrote Steve Johnson in England's Birmingham Evening Mail, "is sure to appreciate Po' Girl, with the band creating nostalgic musical reminders of days gone by." Keogh concurred: "Try and catch them on their UK tour this autumn—it'll be the most quietly charming gig you'll enjoy all year."
At the beginning of 2006, Klein continued to juggle her roles in Po' Girl and the Be Good Tanyas. Both bands planned to release albums in 2006. "It's been a very hectic two or three years—I don't seem to have stopped really," Klein told Johnson, "but when you are doing something this enjoyable it doesn't matter." Meanwhile, Po' Girl continued to tour at the beginning of 2006, traveling to Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Texas. Speaking of the band's inner workings and growing fan base, Klein told Johnson, "We all get on really well together and so far our audiences have really taken to our sound." By radically re-imagining how folk music can be performed, these "urban minstrels," as an early bio described the group, have attracted a new generation to folk music. "Obviously, Po' Girl is being recognized as a musicians' band," wrote Cindy Filipenko in Herizons. "Let's hope they get equal acclaim as a music lovers' band."
Po' Girl, Jericho/HighTone, 2003.
Vagabond Lullabies, Nettwerk, 2004.
For the Record …
Members include Diona Davies (joined group, 2003), fiddle, banjo, guitar, vocals; Trish Klein, banjo, guitar, vocals; Allison Russell, clarinet, guitar, pennywhistle.
Trish Klein and Allison Russell formed Po' Girl, 2003; issued debut, Po' Girl, on Jericho (Canada) and High-Tone (United States), 2003; joined by Diona Davies, 2003; recorded second album, Vagabond Lullabies, for Nettwerk, 2004; toured Britain, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Nettwerk, 345 7th Ave., 24th Fl., New York, NY 10001, website: http://www.nettwerk.com.
Birmingham Evening Mail (England), January 30, 2004, p. 47.
Herizons, Winter 2004, p. 32; Spring 2005, p. 44.
Sing Out!, Spring 2005, p. 138.
Times (London, England), January 30, 2004, p. 13.
"Down Wind With Trish Klein," Music Box, http://www.musicbox-online.com/ (January 10, 2006).
"Po' Girl," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 10, 2006).
"Po' Girl," Vagabond Lullabies, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (January 10, 2006).
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