“I’m With Her” at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh tonight was one of those times as a reviewer I am thankful that I made that little bit of an extra effort to see and hear a band that were new to me (even though I had previously discovered the band members’ music as individuals). This night, 28th August, coming right after the final night of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and The Edinburgh International Festival was a date that many bands would not have risked playing on, as the immediate post-festival nights are often very difficult to get ticket sales for as so many visitors leave the city and those that are left have simply often been to all the shows that they want to see. The very fact that the Queen’s Hall was unusually busy for such a night immediately proved that this band, and its individual members, had a solid enough core following to be able to do that, and there is usually only one reason for that, they are good!
“I’m With Her” is an unlikely name for a band, but it does seem to be working for band members Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, as 2018 is turning into a very busy and successful year for them with a solid touring schedule and their debut album “See You Around” released in February.
For anyone out there reading this review that has not yet heard the individual music of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, a little “Google” search is probably the easiest way to find out about them. In brief, all are from the U.S.A., and each member has already over the years built her own impressive back catalogue of music and songs. All three musicians have crossed over with one another many times on their musical journeys, but this journey as “I’m With Her” is their first collaborative musical project and album. Although not every song in this 90 minute set was from the new album, the bulk of the set was, so that is what I will concentrate on in this review.
How best to describe the music of “I’m With Her” is probably the first step to take. Every member here excels in playing Bluegrass infused Country styled Americana, but there are far more layers to their music than this. The band as individual musicians each have very different musical identities, but somehow they merge seamlessly into a musical and vocal harmony trio that, at first listening to, can disguise some complex harmony arrangements. The first thing that struck me about their songs was not actually the music, but the lyrics of the songs. The songs on “See You Around” are tightly crafted words that not only tell wonderful stories of life, but play with rhythm and timing in their own right. Add the musical layering on top of these words and something special is happening. There are moments in these songs where I am reminded of the best of Simon & Garfunkel’s songs, writing and harmonies.
This is not going to be a song by song analysis (you can go online and listen to them all), and even picking selected tracks here is difficult as they all interest me in one way or another. The title track “See You Around”, “I-89”, “Crescent City” and “Wild One” all showed the stamp of skilled writers and arrangers, but “Ryland (Under The Apple Tree)” still stands out as my favourite for the moment from this set.
There is also with this band, that feeling of friends getting together to write and play music that they enjoy and share it with their audiences, and that pleasure that Sara, Sarah and Aoife are getting from performing together on stage is obvious, even when the songs are a good bit darker in their subject matter.
“I’m With Her” as a band can be around as long as the individual members want it to be, and hopefully that is a long time to come, as collectively they are producing music of vision and quality that will also be around for a long time.
Review by Tom King