Local Love: Say Girl Say
Photo: Maria Alducin
When you think of all the variations we offer as a city with diverse music alongside more mainstream options; a ukulele based three piece doesn’t really sound like something most would gravitate towards. However, when I was told by several people to give Houston’s Say Girl Say a listen, I found myself intrigued by what they would offer up. Catching this band live really made me think that judging a book as they say isn’t always a good idea. In a live setting as well as on recordings, the group tantalizes and mesmerizes your soul with a myriad of sounds and structures that create their own world. That recording, the recently released “Say Girl Say” might be one of the most eclectic and accessible albums I’ve ever heard. While it’s true that this is a three piece made up of a percussionist, two vocalists, and the use of ukulele and various stringed instruments; the reality is that there’s more than meets the eye….and luckily for anyone who listens…there’s so much more for the ears as well.
The album kicks off with the vocal heavy sounds of and mixed percussive nature of the short but heavy sounds of “Ayahua 1” before bleeding into the second track, “Ayahua 2.” The dual vocals that harmonize to create this perfect blend from both Brigette Yawn and Suzan Zaghmouth permeate on top of the song like a mythical gods calling out to followers. Couple this with multiple drums and percussion alongside ukelele and what you end up with is a song that could easily be a hit. The craft the three employ makes you forget that this band isn’t larger while they add folky anthems and international vibes that make the song work on so many levels. Even with the nontraditional set up that the band makes use of, there are still hooks and pop structures that are utilized in the best and most effective way. Around the third song, “What’s That Sound?” you discern that this is more than a band based around ukulele, but more of a vocal act with instruments playing an important yet less focused way. The band adds harp as well as various drums from Luke Odom, who tends to add a new element to each and every track. The vocals, upfront and without apology add a whole new dimension to how you look at the way a song is performed. The beauty of a Say Girl Say song, is how differently they approach each tune, while sticking to traditional musical themes and holding your attention with every note.
This occurs on the hook heavy fourth song, “Tundra” where the two sets of vocals come in at different times while also meeting at the chorus and even get a distorted effect in the song. The hooks aren’t customary, but they still work and are a testament to how the group writes and plays together. The same could be said about the fifth track, “Feather People,” as well as the sixth, “I Don’t Know;” where the use of folk elements that are presented in a new and fresh way. The group mixes it up a bit around the seventh song, “Hallelujah,” where the instruments creep in slowly as the two vocalists add an element of Rhythm and Blues. At certain points, a growl is met with a mix of what you’d expect from Billie Holiday or Celia Cruz, as the band adds multiple genres to the track that craft a whole new world for them to exist. There’s a quiet beauty to the method in which these three bring varying elements to a track, that’s most evident on the eighth track, “Naked” where you get to hear the power of the two vocals and a mix of traditional drum work and various shakers and percussion makers lie in the back of the song. The way in which these vocals float on top of the song while the band zigs and zags between strides in time signature is one of the most bedazzling things you’ll ever hear.
The album is closed off with the slow boil of “Coca Cola Kisses” where these three prove that they’re on a whole other level. Individual vocals, harmonized vocals, and melodies make you wonder why these two aren’t singing in concert halls and theaters around the country. Though the song was released in the past, this version adds varying string instruments with light percussion to add a whole new life to the song. In the end, you realize that these three are much more than what you thought. Together the three play multiple instruments to create a space that’s their own while allowing you to indulge in the pleasures that they offer your ears. The best way to describe their overall sound, was said to me by local singer/songwriter Chase Hamblin; “they’re like sirens calling to you, and you can’t help but be drawn in by their sound.” And, to be honest, that’s pretty much the overall feeling their music creates. The fact that Luke performs varying hand drums while there’s these two vocals peppering a song with prowess is truly staggering. Like a mix of beautiful songs you’d find outside a camp of wandering vagabonds, Say Girl Say has definitely created their own sound while doing it in the most endearing and intriguing way. You can get your own copy of their full length, as well as catch these amazing artists live, when they perform at The Summit on June 20th. The all ages show has doors at 8:00 and tickets between $10.00 and $20.00.