Supergroups tend to be tricky. There’s no guarantee that slamming together a handful of undeniably talented musicians will result in something greater than the sum of its members. Thankfully, I’m With Her, the smashing collective of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, is a beautiful cohesion of tight harmonies, acoustic brilliance, and fresh songwriting. See You Around, their first proper record, comes after a slew of EPs and singles that hinted at their promise as a trio. With 11 new originals and a cover of a previously unreleased Gillian Welch tune, See You Around is an excellent debut full-length from this stellar trio.
Watkins, O’Donovan, and Jarosz elevate the record by offering the best of their respective musical skills. Watkins is already a bluegrass legend for her work with Nickel Creek and the Watkins Family Hour, O’Donovan made waves with her group Crooked Still before releasing her smash solo debut Fossils in 2013, and Jarosz has cut an excellent path as a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. All this considered, ego never gets in the way of their collaboration, a cue most other supergroups should take to heart. The album works best when the three elevate each other’s strengths, complementing one another with gorgeous vocal harmonies or subtle acoustic accompaniments. Despite the wealth of talent album, nothing feels overstuffed – everything clicks right into harmonious place.
“Pangaea” shines with a subtle electric guitar and O’Donovan’s angel-with-bourbon vocals. “Ain’t That Fine” trades in a modern bluegrass sound with tasteful dobro guitar work and Watkins’ clear vocal delivery. Each member stands solidly on their own, but when they harmonize together, it’s heaven.”See You Around” and “Wild One” show how well their vocals come together, how succinctly they blend yet allow each member to retain their own (literal) voice. Combined, they unite with ease, as smooth as a casual jam session.
The easygoing reverb guitar of “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree)” is ideal for the tune’s hazy, swinging mood. The jaunty instrumental “Waitsfield” seems like an odd inclusion, but the playful use of dynamics and tempo infuse enough character to keep the track on the charming side of hokey. Throughout See You Around the acoustic guitars, mandolins, and violins elevate each song with solid accompaniments and tasteful fills, from the steady strumming of “Overland” to the tight picking of “Crescent City”. The pervasive influence of folk and bluegrass is evident without feeling overt, giving the record sense of unity between introspective songwriting and instrumental prowess.
While See You Around is their official full-length record the trio sounds seasoned, their interactions effortless and natural. Each member shines at what they do best without sounding overbearing or sacrificing the ensemble’s clarity. Credit is due to their constant touring, as well as the collaborative tradition of acoustic music. Jarosz, Watkins, and O’Donovan have worked in the same circles for years–no doubt their interactions at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and performances on Chris Thile’s Live From Here fostered a simpatico vibe – and the album is a glorious result of their mutual understanding.
Truly, this is the way to build a supergroup. Ambition is fine, but a deep understanding of tradition, respect, and the necessity of a unified musical coalition is the only way to foster something that will resonate beyond a one-off recording. While each member undoubtedly has far more to say in their respective careers, we can only hope that I’m With Her stands as more than a side project.