The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Harpeth Rising. Courtesy photo.

Harpeth Rising

When: Thursday, July 17, at 9 p.m.
Where: Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester 

Everything but the harp
Harpeth Rising bring unique chambergrass sound to Shaskeen

By Michael Witthaus

 Named after a river, the music of Harpeth Rising flows from many tributaries — folk and bluegrass, with elements of jazz and Hawaiian slack key, informed by a love of classic rock, blues and soul. The three band members — Jordana Greenberg (violin, vocals), Rebecca Reed-Lunn (banjo, vocals) and Maria Di Meglio (cello, vocals) — met while attending Jacobs School of Music at University of Indiana.

“We studied classical and Latin music, and in southern Indiana there’s a rich bluegrass and old-time music culture,” Greenberg said in a recent phone interview. 
She and Reed-Lunn also spent a summer traveling to bluegrass festivals and jamming at campsites along the way. 
“When we started writing our own stuff it incorporated all those influences,” she said.
A native of Canada who migrated to the Midwest, Greenberg grew up listening to Canadian pastoral folksinger Stan Rogers and Leonard Cohen, among others. 
“I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan, too,” she said.  
After college, she and Reed-Lunn spent a couple of years in Hawaii, playing gigs and soaking up the musical heritage. 
“We were enormously influenced by our time there. … Rebecca uses ukulele techniques in her banjo playing, for example. Eventually, it all organically landed on what we have now.”
At turns tender and raucous, the trio can evoke Gregorian organum as easily as a Kentucky holler. Some of their best tunes are instrumentals. They take a traditional song like “House of the Rising Sun” to a place it’s never been: Greenberg’s singing and crying violin, punctuated by Di Meglio’s cello moan and the peppery picking of Reed-Lunn, make it a revelation. Equally stunning is the balance of reverence and impiety on their version of “Norwegian Wood,” which begins with quiet and peaceful string interplay and ends like a runaway train.
Clever wordplay on tunes like “Wheelhouse” and the Devil-taunting “Burn Away Your Troubles” prove the group’s songwriting acumen. A standout track from the band’s fourth album, Tales From Jackson Bridge, is “You Won’t Hear It From Me.” With a jaunty retro rhythm, Andrews Sisters-like harmonies and whistling (yes, whistling!) the post-breakup ditty a positive gem. 
The band calls its genre-bending sound chambergrass. The duo of Greenberg and Reed-Lunn originally called itself Sisters Grimm, but dropped it when they learned of a children’s book series with the same name. They drew a new moniker from their current home base near Nashville, which also reflected the trio’s love of the land — and its halo effect on music. 
“We wanted something unique to us that represented our music, what we’re trying to express and communicate,” Greenberg said. “Harpeth is a small but ancient river that’s beautiful and dynamic, always changing, and that’s how we think of music — flexible and powerful, the way water can be. Ultimately they are totally connected. Music imitates nature and vice versa.”
Their music connects with a wide range of audiences, making Harpeth Rising a good fit for Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub, which presents punk bands, hip-hop, Irish folk and everything in between. Listeners are occasionally flabbergasted by the trio’s unconventional sound, but more often than not pleasantly so. 
“My favorite response is people who say, I didn’t expect this, but I love it,” said Greenberg, “or the ones who tell us, ‘ I thought I was coming to a bluegrass show because I only listen to that, but now I’m gonna listen to you.’ There’s something special about being able to surprise an audience, and that gets to be a pretty regular thing for us.” 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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