Joseph’s stripped-down ‘Trio Sessions’ EP gives the folk-pop trio’s songs space to breath, presenting them in their most vulnerable and poignant forms.
by guest writer Matthew Gose
Stream: ‘Trio Sessions: Vol. 1’ – Joseph
Last fall, folk-pop trio Joseph broke from hiatus with their explosive third album Good Luck, Kid, the long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s I’m Along, No You’re Not. The album was both a form of catharsis for the band as well as a celebration of rediscovering their love for each other and their craft. Now, to kick off the new year, the new decade, and a new season of life, the Closner sisters have taken some of their new material and reinterpreted it for their first release of 2020, Trio Sessions Vol. 1. Void of heavy production or instrumentation, the new EP presents each of its five tracks in their most vulnerable form, giving them space to breath, to live, and to work their magic all over the listener.
If Good Luck, Kid is the wedding reception – brimming with energy, pulsating rhythms, full instrumentation, and dynamic theatrics – then Trio Sessions is the wedding night. There’s no dj and the party guests have long gone. The elaborate and ornate outfits have been shed. It’s quiet. In this space, the joy, the trust, the love that was celebrated fervently only a few hours ago truly becomes incarnate. Here the dream becomes something tangibly real. The celebration preceded this vulnerable space, and the vulnerable space validates the cause for celebration.
For fans who were there at the epicenter, Trio Sessions is, in many respects, a warm callback to Joseph’s point of origin. Listeners may recall humble backyards dimly lit by strings of Edison bulbs and minimal crowds of twenty-somethings held in utter captivity by the strumming of a single acoustic guitar and those three celestial voices braided together in tight, genetically perfect harmony. However, Trio Sessions is hardly a throwback. Instead it functions as a mile marker, tracking exactly how far these sisters have progressed – professionally, artistically, and internally.
It’s no secret that the past year and a half has been wrought with tension for sisters Natalie Closner Schepman, Allison Closner and Meegan Closner. According to a message by sister and band member Meegan Closner via the band’s Instagram, in the space between “I’m Alone, No You’re Not,” tensions within the band came to a head, nearly causing a formal split. Fortunately, the sisters were not only able to work through the dissonance but rediscover their harmony once again, producing an album full of incredible tracks in the process.
Trio Sessions features each song in its most simple and fragile form — minimal instrumentation, usually only a guitar or piano, and little to no percussion, with those three otherworldly voices floating effortlessly over the top like a morning mist.
The EP cover features a sparse, black and white image of the sisters sitting together in a room against an all-black background. The visuals help transport the listener to some ethereal space free of any visual or auditory distractions, creating an immediacy as well as a palpable intimacy.
The EP opens with the clean, rhythmic strumming of older sister Natalie Closner Schepman’s Gibson SG and the flickering “ba-ba, ba-ba” vocals of all three sisters. The sound, in context, emulates a slow heartbeat. The longing and emotive tension presiding in the original, fully produced track only become further exemplified in this sparse rendition. The contrast of singing and silence perfectly illustrate the emotional dichotomy as the song’s chorus somberly inquires, “Happy and sad, is it too much to ask for just one or the other?”
The albums clear high mark is the third track, “Fighter,” a song written because of and in response to what the sisters themselves have recognized as a major turning point in their relationships – as sisters, as bandmates, and as creative collaborators. The song, at its heart, is about pausing to acknowledge a growing distance between loved ones and the deliberate choice for each party to dig their heels into the dirt and fight. The fighting here is not in opposition to one another, but for one another, for the love that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Meegan Closner singing the refrain, “don’t leave me in the dark,” accompanied by nothing but warm, resonant, open piano chords evokes the flicker of a single, fragile candle flame holding its own against a wave of impeding darkness. From there, Closner sings almost completely a capella, “You think you’re keeping the peace while you creep, creep away from me,” the sense of increasing fear, uncertainty, and despair becoming all encompassing. Suddenly, the voices of her sisters bleed in and the chorus erupts like a solar flare across the dark reaches of black space, and there it is – in place of desperation – hope.
The fourth track, “Green Eyes,” opens once again with Meegan Closner’s voice this time slinking over a reverb-laden guitar plucking out a swaying rhythm. As the song crescendos to the chorus, the power in the combined voices of the sisters becomes astoundingly apparent. Their voices emote a combination of aggression, desperation, and hopefulness as they belt out;
If we’re headed for the cliffside
I’m ready for the fall
If you know me at all
You know I don’t need lights to decide
I’m not changing my mind
The EP closes with the punchy “Good Luck, Kid.” Electronic drums and chunky guitar drive the song rhythmically as oldest sister Natalie Closner Schepman’s voice pulses in like Morse code. The sisters push their vocals to full throttle, especially in the pre-chorus, as they hug the melody’s sharp and uneven turns like seasoned Nascar drivers. As soon as the track reaches its conclusion, you’re ready to jump back to the start and listen all over again.
In many ways, Trio Sessions brings a fullness to what Good Luck, Kid strives for – songs of strength, hope, and empowerment, but also of vulnerability, introspection, and honesty.
The project seems to represent the moment in which these sisters find themselves –glancing in the rearview mirror, reflecting, contemplating, then continuing onward down the long stretch of road that lies ahead.
Matt Gose loves stories, great songs, driving windows-down along the coastal highways of North County San Diego, and his incredible wife, Alexandra. In 2011, he graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a BA in Literature and currently works in San Diego County as a freelance writer and substitute teacher. When he’s not writing, he’s playing his guitar named sunny, reading, spending time outdoors, or otherwise on the lookout for adventure. His favorite author in Ken Kesey. His favorite song is “You Still Believe in Me,” by The Beach Boys. His favorite movie is Almost Famous (duh). And his favorite food is tacos de lengua. Catch him on Twitter @thegosewriter, Instagram @gosewriter, and on the web at www.gosewriter.com
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Trio Sessions: Vol. 1
an EP by Joseph