Album review – Juniper Three

Written by on October 18, 2023

 

Scotland-based vocal trio Juniper Three first caught my eye (and ear!) when they turned up on the Danny Kyle Open Stage during 2023’s Celtic Connections.

Aimee Penman, Laura Hill and Outi Smith absolutely wowed the crowd with their CSN-style close melodic harmony performance gaining a “Highly Recommended” award against some fierce competition.

This EP is their first venture into recording, and the first question that arises is to wonder why, in the group’s four-year trajectory, this has taken so long.

Make no mistake, this is no tyro group throwing its hat into the ring. This is a thoroughly professional performance by artists at the peak of their powers and displaying no mean songwriting talent.

The CD opens with Spiral, a medium-paced whole-band composition dealing with the destinations we set ourselves and the way the journey to them can be full of unexpected pitfalls. The song has a simple piano accompaniment allowing the listener to fully experience the lush harmonies that would challenge many but which they make sound so easy.

Straight Away is a tale of love at first sight. Carmen Bradford’s piano provides a jazz swing that pushes the vocals which break, from time to time, into a driving double time. The number was written by Aimee Penman and her voice just soars over the flowing harmonies undepinning it.

New Kind of Blue, written by Laura Hill, has her asking herself if a new relationship will lead to joy or pain, and how that indecision is, in itself, a “new kind of blue.” Carmen supplies a backing that recalls that of Ketty Lester’s Love Letters, and Laura’s lead vocal and the sympathetic backing vocals definitely demonstrate the required level of “blue”.

The EP is rounded off with an Outi (pron. “Oaty”) Smith slow ballad, Journey On, that echoes the theme of Spiral that life is a voyage through unexpected waters and issues an invitation to join her on that journey. It also perhaps echoes Outi’s own life in that she has journeyed a long way from her native Finland. There is a definite gospel feel to the main vocal arrangement, while the bridge veers into Great American Songbook territory with its sophisticated chording.

There are many close-harmony groups that adhere to tried and true traditional intervals which can easily sound a little blocky. Juniper Three have no truck with tradition in that respect, as their harmonic lines weave constantly resolving discord to euphony with contrapuntal embellishments along the way.

This EP is perfectly constructed to show the vocal and composition talents of the trio. They can write all together or separately, and each voice can take the lead or blend perfectly with the others.

It’s not for nothing that I compared them at the start of this review to Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I can’t wait to hear more.

BOB LESLIE

Hard copy is available from their website, and download/preview from:

https://juniperthree.bandcamp.com/album/juniper-three


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