Joseph: The Folk Sister Trio You Need To Know

Have you ever been to a concert where the opening performer puts you in a state of total awe? You leave the show wondering why you hadn’t listened to their music before seeing them live because they’re all you can think about and listen to for weeks following the show? This happened to me back in October when I saw sister trio Joseph open for James Bay on his Chaos And The Calm tour. I’d only heard a song or two of Joseph’s in passing on Spotify—and let me tell you, I was in no way prepared for the experience of hearing them live.

Joseph is one of those bands that stand out from all the others simply because of their exquisite craft. Sisters Natalie, Allison, and Meegan Closner hail from Portland, Oregon but their group’s name is a homage to both family and Joseph, Oregon—where their grandfather lived. With musical influences from a variety of artists and genres (everything from jazz and late 90s/early 00s country, to Ella Fitzgerald and Paramore), it’s no wonder Joseph absolutely nails it on their second full-length album.

I’m Alone, No You’re Not quickly became an album I couldn’t stop listening to. I began noticing their songs were stuck in my head and their melodies were all I could hum, even if I hadn’t listened to them recently. I’ve grown to love I’m Alone to the point where even though I’ve already purchased it, I keep wanting to buy it again and again out of sheer excitement over how fantastic it is (PSA: for the next week, you can get said album for only $5.99 on iTunes—DO IT). I’m Alone, No You’re Not features moody ballads (see: “Honest”), buoyant pop songs (see: “White Flag”), and a sweetly eerie lullaby (see: “Sweet Dreams”) to round things out. It’s a whirlwind of vocal and lyrical artistry.

The three voices that define Joseph are simultaneously delicate and strong—like a quiet hum in a loud storm or a soft touch over a fast-beating heart. It’s called “vocal alchemy,” according to Joseph’s bio and I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to describe it. Natalie, Allison, and Meegan’s voices dip, dive, and swirl. They’re timid and confident. They’re soft and loud. They’re each distinct in their sound (and I absolutely melt over many of the solo verses throughout I’m Alone, No You’re Not), but everything clicks perfectly when they’re harmonizing and weaving through one another. With such voices, it’s hard to pay nearly as much attention to the simple instrumental elements that back and complement them—but like Joseph’s vocals, the melodies are hypnotic. When you put that all together? It’s magic.

Which brings me back to Joseph’s live performances. I find I’m drawn to artists whose live sound mimics, if not exceeds, their recorded tracks. Whether you see them performing with nothing more than their voices and Natalie on guitar, or you see them with a full backing band, I guarantee you’ll be floored. Joseph effortlessly glows and sparkles on stage. 

This past weekend, I braved a snowstorm to see Joseph perform a sold out show at my all-time favorite Chicago venue. It’s a small space, which escalated the warm, intimate atmosphere. I felt like one of the Closner sisters—sans vocal talent—as I stood in the crowd, swaying and smiling, feeling both haunted and alive. Their energy is both calming and electric, and in some way, you can tell they’re on the same wavelength. After all, they’re sisters.  In the same way their voices compliment one another, Natalie, Allison, and Meegan seem to feed off each other in front of a crowd. I have a number of favorite tracks off their album, but I quickly found myself drawn to other songs after hearing them live.

“Whirlwind” echoed through the venue—with each sister taking a turn at artfully howling like wind over each verse and percussion that could’ve passed as a rumbling storm. Meegan introduced “I Don’t Mind” as a song she wished someone would sing to her about her sadness; it’s about finding peace with having your own anxieties and demons. There were points of near-silence with Meegan’s voice nearing a whisper; the audience was transfixed. “Planets” is a thoughtfully layered, swooning song that Joseph invited the crowd to participate in—not going to lie, a room full of people backing three beautiful voices was an experience I won’t soon forget (especially when the song ended and Natalie excitedly jumped up and down over how cool it was).

If you’re looking for a new band with vocals that will make you wonder how three humans—let alone any human—could possibly sound so flawless, Joseph are your girls. With a number of tour dates and festivals lined up, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to check out the Closner sisters yourself. Until then, I’d highly recommend checking out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert to get a taste of their live show excellence. And seriously, buy that album on iTunes.

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