Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden Discover Their Grandfather’s Lost Songs from a Forgotten America, Alongside the Music of Spain (Josh Haden), Kanye West and The Carter Family

The Haden Triplets—Petra, Rachel and Tanya—were born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, and carry between them a list of credits that includes some of the most interesting rock, jazz and experimental music to come along in the past 30 years: that dog., Weezer, Beck, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, Bill Frisell, Sunn O))), Mike Watt, The Fates on Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, Paul Motian and the Decemberists, to name just a handful. The Triplets’ sound is as otherworldly as ever—evocative of both the old, weird America and a specific brand of vocal charm that anyone who’s minded indie-rock since the early ’90s will recognize.

But like their late father, the bassist Charlie Haden, who changed jazz’s trajectory alongside Ornette Coleman beginning in the 1950s, the sisters also belong to the American heartland, and to the winsome family harmony singing of the region’s folk and country music. On The Family Songbook (January 24 / Trimeter), the follow-up to their acclaimed 2014 self-titled debut, the Haden Triplets mine their heritage more profoundly than ever before.

That includes recording recently unearthed songs by their grandfatherCarl E. Haden, a figure of novel-esque dimensions: friend to the Carter Family and Porter Wagoner, and patriarch of the singing Haden Family, a fascinating footnote in country-music history.  The songs made their way to the sisters via uncle Carl Haden Jr., who had recovered his father’s sheet music and relics like the songbook Favorites of the Haden Family. These were published during the years when printed music was still a business akin to the record industry, and the enterprising elder Carl released songs and songbooks, as well as ’zine-like collections of family photos and anecdotes, through the radio stations that broadcast the Haden Family, namely KWTO, out of Springfield, Missouri.   Charlie Haden joined the family band as a tot in the late ’30s, and became a featured singer—yodelin’ “Cowboy” Charlie—when he was so young his mother had to hold him up to reach the mic.

The Family Songbook also includes “Every Time I Try,” by the triplets’ brother Josh, best known as the force behind the genre-bending indie band Spain.  Kanye West’s “Say You Will” might seem out of left field, but it fits the sisters’ m.o. to simply seek out great songs, and its stark, flamenco-tinged treatment makes it feel remarkably of a piece with Americana standards like “Wayfaring Stranger,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Wildwood Flower” and “Pretty Baby.”

The new video for “Every Time I Try” is a tribute to country music TV programmes circa the fifties and latter decades and features a cameo by the actor Nick Offerman, who delivers one-liners, “Paint me green and call me a tree frog if I ever heard singing like that before;” and, “If your eyes are dry then it must be your ears that are on the blink.”  The video also includes an ad for a fictional soap, Harmony, with the tag-line ‘What the f*ck key are we in.’

Produced by Woody Jackson, The Family Songbook might also be considered one of the year’s great guitar records, with Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz on pedal-steel and Doyle Bramhall III, joined by Don Was and the late bassist Larry Taylor, of Canned Heat.

The Haden Triplets will be in tour in 2020, including The Big Ears Festival and Stagecoach.


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