On Thursday night Goodrich traded it’s usual weekend hip-hop beats for something a little more relaxing and less mainstream. Tall Heights, the singer-songwriter duo from Boston, was asked to play at the College by Izzy Griffin-Smith ’13 on behalf of the Goodrich Coffee House. The free show – and hot beverages – drew a medium sized crowd of people who were appreciative of the coffeehouse-acoustic vibe that the show provided. While some used the pleasant background of live music to do homework, many chose to simply take a deep breath and listen to the two artists do what they do best.
I can understand that some readers out there may hear about a group like this and assume that they already know the kind of songs that they will play. After listening to their two-hour set Thursday night and their newly released EP Rafters, I can honestly say that the duo has a unique sound that is all their own. When they started to play the first song, I was worried that this group’s sound would seem all too familiar and reminiscent of a Mumford and Sons stereotype, but I immediately realized that there was one particular characteristic that sets them apart: the cello. The group’s cellist, Paul Wright, proved to be an extremely talented musician while accompanying lead guitarist Tim Harrington. The instrument had a voice of its own that provided low harmonies to the voices of the two vocalists who often took falsettos.
The set was interspersed with the five songs off of the EP, which was handed out at the show for the price of a ‘like’ on Facebook. They also played several very enjoyable covers of songs by artists such as The Beatles and R.E.M. I found that these songs helped me to put the rest of their set into perspective. Knowing the original songs and then subsequently hearing the new spin that the duo put on them was very indicative of the group’s overall musical clarity.
Many of the songs had poignant and relatable lyrics about the implications of being young, including leaving college, working a crappy job and being in a relationship. While their lyrics were inspired by very personal events and experiences, their music seemed to have derivatives in a range of genres, including country, folk and bluegrass. “Sellin’ My Soul,” a song not from the EP, was one that seemed to have its roots in the plucky guitars of these genres. In other songs such as “Antenna Out of Wire” and “Somewhere I Believe,” the power of the cello was really apparent as it ebbed and flowed with a low melody all on its own beneath the faster rhythm of the guitar.
Having heard the EP both live and on their self-recorded second release, I found that the five songs from Rafters were by far my favorites. Its opener, “To Be Young,” which ended the set at Goodrich, begins with plucked strings and guitar work, which eventually develop into a chorus with a subdued falsetto rising above a harmonic bottom line. The plucked cello eventually broadens into a full string interlude, which nicely complements the chorus. This interplay between cello and guitar builds and builds to a final crescendo of instrumental energy accompanied by lyrics about the easy days of summer. “Do Not Resuscitate” was probably my least favorite on the album, but served as the group’s opener at the show and was an easy listening introduction to their sound. “The Hollow” serves as a nice pause on the album with an airy quality that reminded me of a fairytale set to music. Baring the EP’s namesake, “Rafters” was my favorite song played live and remains to be so after listening to the recording. I find this song to be extremely original, and while some of the other songs could blend into each other at times, “Rafters” seems to have characteristics all its own. The lyrics and beautifully executed harmonies that grow in intensity throughout the song create a sense of suspense with the aid of the cello’s staccato role in the background until finally reaching a moment of what feels like an emotional revelation, accompanied by the lyrics, “Here on my own/ like this home/ The landlord collects his fee/ I’m growing old/ I’m so alone.” The final song, “Hell and High Water,” which, Harrington explained, is about his aunt’s battle with cancer and “Cape Cod and the erosion happening there,” ends the album on a melancholy note with a stronger cello voice than ever before. The beauty of this instrument as a counterpart to the artists’ voices was really quite stunning in this lyrically sensitive and personal song.
Overall I found that the duo Tall Heights was very engaging live and produced an EP that was significantly more confident than some of the group’s earlier songs. I got the sense that the band came into its own with Rafters and I really identified with the introspective lyrics and appreciated the thoughtful harmonies that give this group the amazing sound they have worked so hard to produce.
Additional reporting by William Hayes ’14.