"Sisters are doing it for themselves," Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox sang a while back, and nowhere in today's music is this more true than with SHeDAISY, three Utah-born siblings, Kristyn, Kelsi and Kassidy Osborn who've harmonized together their whole lives and worked the past dozen years in Nashville to become the artistic force behind the groundbreaking new release, Knock On The Sky.
"We've learned a lot of life lessons since our first album," says Kristyn, referring to their double-platinum debut, THE WHOLE SHeBANG, released on Lyric Street Records in 1999, followed by a remix album and the yuletide Brand New Year. Kristyn wrote or co-wrote every track on the very personal follow-up, Knock On The Sky, which SHeDAISY co-produced with the returning Dann Huff. In fourteen compelling tracks, the album tells the story of a woman's search for self, the fragility of the female ego, coming to terms with her own sexuality, free agency, the euphoria of new love, love that is unattainable, "life's seductive highs and destructive lows," regret, revenge and remorse.
Preventing the mood from becoming too somber, though, is that indomitable SHeDAISY spirit, which animated the group's early hits like the feisty "Little Good-Byes." Beginning with Knock on the Sky's first single, the in your face, "Get Over Yourself," SHeDAISY's strength comes through in equal measure to the vulnerability depicted in such wrenching ballads as "The First To Let Go." Kristyn's exceptionally visceral and poetic lyrics put these often difficult-to-articulate emotions into words we can all relate to. Musically, the Osborn sisters demonstrate that as a group they've absorbed a wide range of influences from their female forbears, from the gospel-tinged belting of Aretha and Annie, to the blood-kin harmonies of the Judds, the poignant pop of Karen Carpenter, and the rockin' Wilson sisters of Heart, to the homespun sass of classic Dolly Parton and the acerbic wit of the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler.
"Together, we fit like pieces of a puzzle," says Kelsi, of the way her distinctive voice and personality mesh with those of her sisters. Each Osborn claims diverse youthful influences: As little girls in the rodeo town of Magna, Utah, big sis Kristyn spent time in her room poring over confessional album notes and attempting her first songwriting efforts, while Kassidy, the youngest of the three (and the middle of six Osborn siblings) studied Donny and Marie and Barbara Mandrell on TV, and precocious Kelsi, who first sang in public at age three, had already begun entertaining as a preschooler. The sisters are just as different today: Kristyn is quiet, contemplative, and somewhat brooding, a self-described, "chronic worrier"; Kelsi, the group's anchor, is unflappably cool, calm, and collected; while Kassidy shines as the life of the party, a social butterfly always looking for the next adventure.
"Oddly enough, the tonal qualities in our voices fit our personalities," Kristyn points out. "My sisters make fun of me and call me the man of the group, because I sing the low, mellow, bass parts. I don't have the range like Kassidy, whose feistiness comes out in her bluesy vocals. She's very dramatic in her singing and that fits her personality. Then you've got Kelsi, who fills in every hole. She sings soprano and there's nothing she can't pull off. She sings the same at 2 o'clock in the morning as she does at 10 in the morning."
Kelsi agrees with her sister: "If you hear us sing individually, we all sound so different, but together we have the family blend." That's why it's important to SHeDAISY that there's no "lead" singer: each sister takes a turn upfront, while the group's hallmark remains the intricate vocal interplay between all three voices.
SHeDAISY's complicated harmony arrangements came first when developing Knock On The Sky, according to the Osborns. "Poor Dann!" the sisters say about their co-producer Dann Huff, formerly a top session guitarist before becoming an acclaimed producer (who also produced all three previous SHeDAISY efforts). "It was important for him to work around our vocals," says Kassidy, to which Kelsi adds, "Our vocals are consistently weaving throughout the songs. Dann began wondering, 'Am I ever going have a place to put a solo in there?'" He did indeed find room for atmospheric blasts of electric and acoustic guitars and fiddle, as well as delicately placed helpings of mandolin and banjo and washes of keyboards.
The result is fourteen very different songs that work together as a whole: the euphorically melodic, "Rush" and "I'm Lit"; the intensely introspective "Keep Me" and "Mine All Mine"; the double-entendre frolic, "Man Goin' Down"; the quirkily playful, "Repent"; the joyfully optimistic and catchy "Now" and "Turn Me On,"; the misleadingly lighthearted sounding "All Over You,"; the gorgeous but despairing, "I Wish I Were the Rain," and "The First To Let Go".
"These songs were journal entries for me," explains Kristyn. "And I keep my journal locked up! "I Wish I Were the Rain," for example, is a snapshot of the past year of my life. But it felt good to get it out. Though the first time we played these songs for a group of people, I could not handle it. Now I realize it's the bravest thing I've done in a long time."
Kassidy sympathizes as only a sister can, "We feel so close to these songs," she relates. "Even though Kelsi and I haven't experienced quite the emotion Kristyn expressed in some of the songs, I feel like I have because I've been watching Kristyn go through it. With every song on the album, I get the emotion. I know why she wrote it. That's why it's so real - it's a sister thing."
Summarizing SHeDAISY's goal for Knock On The Sky, Kristyn says, "We like to think of each song as a mini-movie. It needs to be entertaining, whether it makes you feel emotional or whether it makes you want to dance or whether it makes you want to call your mom and say thank you." While Kelsi and Kassidy nod their heads in agreement, she adds, "We want you to be able to picture things while you're listening. And the only way to do that is for us to paint it sonically with every single song."
Let's hope that SHeDAISY's Osborn sisters never run out of paint!