Review by Heath Andrews
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
There are some albums that based on the strength of the material contained within, essentially review themselves. Such is the case with The Gothard Sisters and their 2011 album, Story Girl. This trio of violinist sisters work their Celtic magic on twelve songs that interchange original creations and newly arranged traditional pieces with remarkable ease. While the album could be engaging enough on the merits of their violin playing, the Gothard Sisters also include the guitar, bodhran (Celtic hand drum), and enchanting vocals, to cement the Celtic atmosphere and drive home an album that is incredibly strong and engaging.
The Gothard Sisters are made up of Greta, Willow, and Solana with the latter of the three being the lead vocalist. The most important thing to realize about Story Girl is that it pretty much does exactly what you’d expect it to and often goes a step beyond that. “The Sailor And The Mermaid” begins the album and it’s a fitting piece to do so as it displays the sisters’ talents in excellent fashion. Beginning with the guitar and a violin backing, the instrumental builds to cast the violin into the forefront while the bodhran beats away lightly in the background. The pacing of the piece also escalates with this change in tone and the tempo and melody is wonderfully danceable.
The website for The Gothard Sisters mentions that in addition to their singing and playing, there is a heavy element of dancing to their live performances. It should be of little surprise then that so many of the songs on Story Girl are toe-tapping, boot-stomping, river-dancing romps. Two of the stronger pieces like this are written by Greta, “Celebration Reel” and “Lucille.” Both of these songs start off on the gentler side and build up into danceable numbers, the latter containing some heavier percussion and the simultaneous playing of violins churns out some deeply rich notes with a beautiful tone. “Celebration Reel” is equally beautiful, but the violin playing is positively frenetic.
Once you hear what the sisters are capable of, the rest of the album is pretty much what you’d expect. Their version of “Scarborough Fair” is pleasantly soothing and beautiful, making full use of the violin as the main carrier of the melody and the backing atmosphere. Solana’s voice is high and angelic with even her wordless vocalizing being a compelling force in the song’s arrangement. Her sisters’ backing vocals lend an extra bit of depth and resonance to her performance which is a nice touch considering Solana’s voice is more graceful than forceful.
“The Three Coins” throws a bit of a curveball at the listener by placing a great deal of emphasis on the bodhran. Unlike the rest of the album where the percussion is basically used for the sake of keeping time, here it becomes a central part of the song, pounding away over the guitar. Eventually the violin kicks in, but the bodhran stays around to bring back that rhythm that began the track with a riveting sense of intensity.
Not all of the pieces are as intense as the one’s described so far, “Willow’s Waltz” is a more consistently paced piece, which is also exactly what it sounds like; a waltz written by Willow. Even though it has its flourishes of grandeur, most of the song is rooted in the traditional ¾ time signature attributed to waltz’s. The song opens with the plucking of the violin as opposed to the use of a bow, but it gives way to the guitar soon after. The waltz continually moves forward and because of this, the guitar plays more of a continuous solo than it does any main rhythm or riff. It’s an exquisitely performed piece that displays the Gothard Sisters’ abilities outside the violin.
Naturally the rest of the album contains some more outstanding songs that are similarly well played and arranged. As one would expect, “Midsummer Jig” is a fabulously constructed and performed jig, hurt only by the fact that the listener can’t watch the Gothard Sisters dance to it. “Fields Of Athenry” is a widely known traditional song, and here it’s wonderfully set in a subdued fashion, giving Solana the chance to let her voice shine.
Story Girl is an album that needs to be heard, it’s as simple as that. Whether you’re a fan of Celtic music or not, the musicianship and composition of the songs here is remarkable. The Gothard Sisters are incredibly talented and they are able to take their skills and demonstrate them on pieces that are easily accessible to the listener. The teaming up of Greta, Willow, and Solana is an extraordinary one and the album resulting from it speaks for itself.
Review by Andrea Guy
Rating 5 out of 5 stars
The Gothard Sisters return with their sixth album, Story Girl. The sisters, who range in age from 16 to 24, will delight listeners’ ears with their wonderful violin playing. The album features songs written by the sisters as well as some traditional songs from Celtic nations.
Each sister brings to the group something special, though all are superb violinists. Greta plays guitar and does a good deal of the arranging. Willow plays mandolin as well as the bodhran. Solana plays the bodhran as well as some other percussion, but she also handles the lead vocals in the group. Together, The Gothard Sisters create wonderful Celtic music.
Story Girl is exactly has what fans have come to love about The Gothard Sisters—energetic melodies, ethereal vocals and plenty of Celtic Spirit. The album opens with the spirited “The Sailor and The Mermaid,” an instrumental that will have feet tapping from start to finish. It is also one of the album’s original compositions. “Celebration Reel” sounds just as the title implies—a song with a melody that is festive. The violin playing is infectious and may even inspire those with two left feet to try some Irish dancing.
Solana’s vocal on the old favorite, “Scarborough Fair,” will please those who appreciate more traditional interpretations and arrangements. Solana’s vocals are pure and untouched by any fancy mixing. She handles songs such as “Scarborough Fair” and “Raglan Road” beautifully. The vocals are simple and stunning. Her voice can be likened to an angel’s.
“Lucille” is a more modern-sounding tune. This ballad is pure romance. The violin seems to coax listeners into an embrace. Even as the tempo picks up, the melody still calls out to the heart.
One of the other traditional songs featured on Story Girl is “A Girl You Don’t Meet Every Day.” This is an old Irish song; one recording that many may be familiar with was done by The Pogues, with Cait O’Riordan handling vocals. There’s quite a difference between Cait’s vocal, which sounds almost gruff, and Solana’s soft, lilting vocal.
“The Fields of Athenry” is a newer Irish folk ballad. The song was written by Pete St. John in the seventies and recorded by artists such as The Dubliners and James Galway. Once again, Solana’s vocal brings a certain lightness and innocence to a song that deals with the Great Irish Famine.
One of the instrumentals that really stands out is “The Three Coins.” It is a jaunty tune that not only showcases some wonderful violin playing but the percussion as well. “Midsummer Jigs” is a fun instrumental. There are certain songs that can compel people to move. This is one of them. It is lively and infectious, and it makes you want to dance a jig!
The album closes with “Marching On,” another instrumental, though this one is much more mellow in comparison to “The Three Coins.”
Story Girl is one of those rare albums that can be enjoyed from start to finish. Greta, Willow and Solana have a way of bringing life to the music so that each song is a unique listening experience. The album is a perfect mixture of vocal tracks and instrumentals. In this mix, the listener gets to hear the remarkable talent of these three sisters.
The Gothard Sisters are at the top of their game with Story Girl. At their young ages, it boggles the mind where they are headed musically from here. This is the perfect addition to anyone’s music collection, but for lovers of Celtic music, this is the must-have album of the year.