Raised in a 150 year old farmhouse 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, songwriter Devin Tuel should have then made her way west, eventually landing in Laurel Canyon in say, 1967 or ’68. Were she not born 40+ years too late, her arrival in the Canyon would have beautifully placed her in both time and space at the exact location to understand and contextualize her music, her work, her trip.
Instead, teenage Devin headed north, to New York City, where she spent formative years managing theater productions, working as a rock journalist, and making lattes and cappuccinos all over the island. She took in the city and began writing songs, drawing from the inspiration of her father’s record collection and the odd times and strange people around her. After 4 years in the city Devin returned to the woods and began writing and performing at open mics and songwriter rounds in the greater Philadelphia area. Releasing her debut EP Heavy Soul in July 2013, Tuel began a period of transition living for stretches of time back in New York, then out west in Denver, rural Pennsylvania, a return to Brooklyn, and now to Nashville where she has been for almost a year. During this time she began working under the name Native Harrow, a partnership with bassist/multi-instrumentalist Stephen Harms, and the duo produced/recorded her debut album Ghost, released June 27, 2015 and toured the Northeast and Southeast in 2014 and the Rocky Mountains in 2015.
Devin’s music has always been informed most clearly by the music of late 60’s Laurel Canyon, from the folk rock choir of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and The Mamas and The Papas, to the psychedelic head trip of The Byrds and The Doors and the earth shattering confessions and investigations of Jackson Browne, James Taylor, and Devin’s first musical love, Joni Mitchell. This new record, Sorores, out June 2, 2017 on Devin’s own Canyon Lady Records, sees Tuel doubling down on her musical influences and simultaneously exploring other paths, beginning with her take on an open C tuning previously utilized by Nick Drake and Laura Marling. This tuning and resultant sonority form the basis of 16 of the double album’s 17 tracks. From there, influences as diverse as 60s art rock, Hindustani classical music, 00s English folk, New York avant-garde jazz, 80s indie rock, classical music of the Ottoman Empire, 60s jazz pop, and desert psychedelia inform the sonic palette of Sorores.
In her own words, “The songs of Sorores reflect changes of heart, growth of soul, struggles in my hunt to find life’s magic, and my exploration of the vast world of sounds. This Latin word for ‘sisters’ has resounded in and from me throughout the writing and recording process and, I feel, captures the essence of this album.” From the percolating bowed cellos and double basses and waves of chiming, shimmery electric guitars that open the album (“Gone”) a haunted longing is introduced. This is not a nostalgia for childhood but for a human connection that may only ever have existed in our expectation rather than in our experience. Tuel begins the story in mid conversation “I am expected to run things around this place, take it all in, make it better, never show your face.”
At various points throughout the album, the drone of string glissandi, howls of slide guitars, and thunder of low pitched drums rumble in the distance and circle the doors of a great hall where songs of longing, of hurt, of love, and of growth are told around the roar of a fire. Ballads like “Chelsea” and “Your Love” give way to sruti drones and sitar solos on the Indian inspired “India Dark Thirty” and the dumbek and santur-style dulcimer opener of the Persian-by-way-of-the-Hudson-River track “Hudson”. Jazz guitar and organ populate tracks like “For Nothing” and “Chelsea” while “How Long” brings a wall of slide guitars and an army of cellos to flesh out the open tuned acoustic, double bass, and drums that drive much of the album. The bowed double bass that underpins “Too Many Troubles” lights up the fiery “Suzanne From The City” while “Book Of Tongues” and “An Ending, A Part” drop the acoustic guitars and bass entirely in favor of rattling overdriven electric guitars and funky, palm muted electric bass. Following the atmospheric sounds of chirping birds and summer breeze, “Like The Muse” is propelled by high flying melodic electric bass while the 8 minute “Let Be” drops in and out of a psychedelic haze of sinewy snakelike guitar and desert hand drums.
Native Harrow is folk music out of place both in time and in construction. Sounds of yesterday paired with stories of today. The ambition of the 60s movement transported to the time and place of here and now.