The cover of songwriter Jean Rohe's latest record, Sisterly, is an imposing portrait of the writer as her hair is braided by another woman. “Braiding someone's hair is so intimate and loving, also kind of servile, and at the same time it's this complex power dynamic,” she reflects. “I mean, you literally have control over someone's head.”
Like the portrait, Sisterly's ten narrative songs illustrate and complicate traditional notions of power and intimacy, and in doing so, explore the very nature of how we communicate with each other. The title song dwells on the words unsaid and deeds undone as a witness to a violent incident beneath a streetlamp. But it goes one step further, blowing open the particulars of this single instance and shining a brighter light of responsibility on a society obsessed with domination and coercion.
“Now, a song is a leaky papercup; it can't hold it all / thought I should call the police,but then I thought again,” she tells us, as she considers the possibility that a 911 call could ignite further violence. “Life can go by in a blur. Slowing down to write, to sing–it might be the only way I learn. There's time to find the right language, but not only that: the right ink and paper, the right envelope or bottle, I can even audition the carrier pigeons. It's a place where I can let the world be complex and disturbing and find my footing amidst that disorder.”
Rohe is probably best known for her much-covered 2012 video single, “National Anthem: Arise! Arise!” performed with community choir and brass ensemble. “I've always written about the world outside myself–'politics,' as some would have it. For a long time, I felt like the old-school folky throwback, orphaned by genre. But today I feel in-step. The songs on Sisterly align with a larger movement among my fellow writers who are now feeling the imperative to use our art to speak boldly to injustice.” Her songwriting on Sisterly addresses some of the pressing concerns of this moment: migration, incarceration, police violence, and an uncertain future, all delivered in groove-oriented songs that make sneaky use of odd meters and revel in the unexpected rhythmic twist.
Produced by her longtime collaborator, Liam Robinson (founding member of Becca Stevens Band, music director of Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, and the other half of Jean’s duo, Robinson & Rohe), the production maintains the pointedness of Rohe’s songwriting/arranging while making creative use of the studio’s riches. The resulting layered sonic landscape marks a departure from her previous, more acoustically-oriented record, Jean Rohe & The End of the World Show. Rounding out the core band are long-time friends Christopher Tordini (bass), James Shipp (percussion, synths), Jordan Perlson (drums), and Bob Lanzetti (guitar). Whether mediated by devices, conducted across oceans, passed through prison bars, or directed at an inner critic, each song on Sisterly contains an urgent missive for this moment. Rohe’s strength is in binding these themes together with sharp language and her broad musical imagination, yielding an unexpected marriage of word, sound, and story: strands in the same braid.
“remarkable in so many ways I can think of no comparison” Elmore Magazine
“A sure-footed young singer-songwriter” The New York Times
“Not only does she make astoundingly beautiful music but she is thoughtful, reflective, and courageous.” No Depression
“Rohe stands out...with her rare tune smithery, her occasionally goosebump-inducing lyrics and her sweet, deceptively gentle soprano” The Independent
“a unique musical voice that sounds like a love song for a world imperiled.” Albany Times Union
Loida & Lenahan are a synthesizer and vibraphone duo based out of Boston. Julian and Kelly are both conservatory-trained classical musicians who found common ground in their synesthesia, where sound has form, color, and texture. For Loida & Lenahan, the way we see sound is integral into the way we hear sound, and we invite you to be an active listener in our sonic exploration of synesthesia.