A less than full house provided over-flow of appreciation for the sister band Rising Appalachia Sunday evening at the Door Community Auditorium. Joined by an able guitarist/string bassist and a flashy percussionist, Leah and Chloe Smith brought their original brand of Southern folk music to the Peninsula.
Leah, who offered much of the good-natured patter of the evening, joked about their hybrid music, saying that store clerks don’t know where to stock their CDs. “After considering folk and blues and jazz and blue grass and world, they finally settle on other!” she laughed.
While growing up in the “urban jungle” of Atlanta, Leah said, the girls traveled with their parents in parts of Appalachia, and later, New Orleans, the experiences influencing their music, as have their tours in this country and abroad.
The duo sings with heads-back full-throated voices, often in close harmony, occasionally a cappella, sometimes accompanied only by percussion. The show was fast paced and performed without intermission. Performing in a minimally lighted hall and wearing ethnic-inspired outfits while the percussionist provided a relentless beat that added a “world” flavor to most of their sets, the sisters immediately captured the attention of the audience.
The lead singer Leah plays banjo and occasionally percussion; Chloe is primarily the fiddler, although she sometimes picks up a guitar or banjo. The show began with an a cappella “Mississippi Song” and book-ended with an unaccompanied version of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Especially enjoyable were the traditional Appalachian pieces, such as “Oh, Death.” The classic “St. James Infirmary Blues,” the original “Downtown” (a poem to New Orleans), and the haunting a cappella Bulgarian “Harvest Song” followed by a rousing “Freedom,” collectively demonstrated the impressive versatility of the sisters.
The repertoire of Rising Appalachia includes a number of original pieces, often with an activist bent: one, for example, dealt with over-crowded prisons; another with traditional medicines; and the popular title song of their 2012 album, “Filthy Dirty South,” protested the corruption of the environment as a consequence of hydraulic fracturing and inadvertent oil spills.
Perhaps because the Smith sisters as children were nurtured by folk music in its original setting, they have emerged as authentic representatives of that tradition. The audience that rose to its feet at the concert’s end seemed to intuitively recognize this element of American culture.
Visit risingappalchia.com to learn more about the band, their tours, and their discography.