Here’s a question: Why don’t people care about the Lilith Fair anymore? The woman-power touring festival brainchild of Sarah McLachlan made a valiant attempt at a comeback last summer, only to be plagued with countless problems — including sluggish ticket sales and numerous acts bailing on the event as the tour kept rolling — thus forcing the revival to fizzle quietly. But why?
It always seemed like a good idea. There is a consistently large audience for the Norah Joneses, Kelly Clarksons and Emmylou Harrises of the world, and when you combine those heavyweights with such modern-day standouts as Gillian Welch and Best Coast, why couldn’t a tour like the Lilith Fair work anymore? It makes no sense, really.
Either way, the Baltimore female duo of Beggar’s Ride would fit the bill perfectly if McLachlan and her friends ever decide to have another go at the packaged road show. The combination of Claudia SanSoucie’s sweet-sounding soprano with Kate Maguire’s sometimes-haunting lower-octave croons is what makes the group’s self-titled debut worth any folk music fan’s time.
David Goodrich’s slick production also helps, as each member’s acoustic guitars intertwine perfectly and the layered, tenderly harmonized vocals complement each other so well. It’s a wonder these gals haven’t blossomed to success on a national level. Comparisons to such other female vocal-heavy collaborations as the Dixie Chicks, The Wreckers or even Sugarland (before the second female lead singer split, mind you) might come to mind, but those proclamations wouldn’t be fair.
Beggar’s Ride is better.
For example, “Five Days of Rain,” the album’s first track, is a showcase for how well SanSoucie’s voice combines with Maguire’s tone as the constant, fantastically natural vocal harmonizing featured here proves this duo must never be taken lightly. Add a well-placed harmonica and a few bluesy acoustic guitar riffs and what you have is a delightfully promising beginning to what turns out to be an even more impressive album.
Case in point: “Sunless Sky.” It’s the best the duo gets throughout all of “Beggar’s Ride.” Placed midway through the record, the track gives the two women an honest-to-goodness Simon and Garfunkel moment that succeeds in the most beautiful way. The performance sees both singers stick to each other through each word, creating one of the most realistic comparisons to a female-led “Bridge Over Troubled Water” than any listener may expect. It’s haunting. It’s pretty. And it’s subtle. Comparing the performance with such legendary prose isn’t an act of overstating things. It’s a confession of truth.
The Maguire-led “Hurry Home” is the most up-tempo the duo gets, allowing for a minor level of fun, however folky that fun may sound. And SanSoucie’s lead-woman capabilities shine through on both “The Enemy” and “Another Day,” two tracks that not only prove the singer’s worth, but also allow any listener to dissect how important Maguire’s backing vocals are when fading them into her counterpart’s feather-light voice.
But that’s just it. Together, the two singers’ voices combine for a sound that proves at times to be wordless — a tone that is incapable of being accurately described, no matter the superlatives, no matter the accolades. And if nothing else, Beggar’s Ride’s self-titled debut proves that the duo belongs among some of the best female-led vocally-driven folk groups around. Forget the Lilith Fair. What many of those concert-goers should be thinking about is where they can find Maguire and SanSoucie strumming their guitars and singing their perfectly crafted harmonies.
And if anybody has any sense, someone will make sure those acoustic guitars and perfect harmonies will eventually be showcased to crowds far bigger than a mere summer music festival could ever provide.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***