They sing like angels and write like veterans, so for most who've heard The Near Misses, there's been little off-target about the all-female quartet since they first performed together in 2004.
Now, on the eve of their CD release party on Nov. 24 at The Evening Muse, fans of the band will hear the fruits of a year-long labor in Marigold, their official full-length debut. (An earlier EP featured live cuts, and Early Hits was a makeshift home-burn culled from crowd favorites and songs written prior to the band's formation).
The 10-song Marigold features two or three cuts from each of the band's four songwriters and singers: Etta Lea, Reeve Coobs, Shana Blake and Eva Gael (co-founding member Jill Lurie left in 2006). The songs range from Tres Chicas-like twangy country numbers and luminous pop a la Aimee Mann to Neko Case-esque indie rock and soulful, widescreen rockers. The group's signature harmonies color every song and style, and get fleshed out with equally lush instrumentation and arrangements.
But the group's calling card is their ability to create a holistic sounding record out of such disparate styles and voices.
"There was concern during pre-production that because of all the different singers it wouldn't sound like a record but something cobbled together," says Lea. "To me, it doesn't. The song can be folky or indie rock style, but once it gets Near Miss-ified, that's what makes it sound like a song by The Near Misses."
A song gets "Near Miss-ified" when the four women figure out how they'll structure the intricate harmonies. Typically, a songwriter brings a tune in with a general idea of what they want, but then the rest have lee-way to add their own ideas -- with the songwriter retaining veto power. Lea says it's not uncommon for her band-mates to start adding parts before she runs through a song the first time.
"We're all perfectly capable of doing your predictable three-part harmonies, and we don't try not to do that, it's just that we're interested in finding out what we can do that's fun and interesting," she says. "There's very rarely any 'here's what I want you to sing.'"
That's pretty much how the group has approached the process since they first sang together as The Near Misses at a Folk & Vote rally at The Evening Muse (Lea co-owns the club with husband and Marigold co-producer Joe Kuhlman). Originally a quintet with Lurie, four of the members were regulars in the Tosco Party Singalong Chorus and had all worked in other bands or sung on other records. But what began as a fun lark quickly took a more serious turn when crowd reaction to the band's sets -- initially featuring original material and covers by Gillian Welch and The Beatles, among others -- was largely positive.
Regional tours followed, and together with appearances at festivals like the Flat Rock Music Festival this summer proved that the group's music had legs. It also proved they could survive line-up changes -- after Lurie left, Gael briefly relocated to Kansas and the band performed as a trio -- and the rigors of the road.
"With all the touring we did this summer we went through that stress and hostility and could've broken up but didn't, so I think we got that out of our systems," Lea says. "Everybody has a good idea of what they want out of the project and what we want to see the record do."
Recording picked up steam in April, with locals like Jason Atkins (keys), Shawn Lynch and Jim Brock (drums), Dustin Hofsess (guitar) and The New Familiars chipping in. Together with the core members' growing confidence and expanded songwriting palates, Marigold is a far cry from The Near Misses' stripped down, folky beginnings.
"I don't think the older fans who have liked our quirky, folky ways will be put off by the drums or an electric guitar," Lea says.
ODDS 'N' ENDS: The Avett Brothers took home two of the three awards they were nominated for at the Americana Music Awards at Ryman Auditorium on Nov. 1, taking home the statuettes (we assume) for the Group/Duo of the Year and New and Emerging Artist ... You can catch an early peek at the trailer for the Milestone documentary – The Secret Altar -- at www.myspace.com/secretaltar. The film is in post-production with a scheduled release date in early '08 ... Kudos to former Charlottean Nicole Atkins, who performed "The Way It Is" from her new record, Neptune City, on Late Night with David Letterman and earned high marks from many viewers. You can see it at www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow.