Review: The Refugees “Three”

The RefugeesThree
(Wabuho Records)
By Joe Ross, Contributing Writer

Guest fiddler Sam Bush and drummer Scott Babcock supplement the sturdy Americana sound of The Refugees’ Three, featuring the trio of Cindy Bullens (guitars, mandolin, harmonica), Deborah Holland (bass, accordion, piano), and Wendy Waldman (guitars, Dobro). While the  singing and songwriting women have years of experience (with 19 solo albums between them), The Refugees are a Los Angeles based collaboration formed in 2007. A couple years later, their debut album Unbound was very well received.

The distinctive group has spun many heads with their keen ability to build upon each musician’s strengths, revolving around songwriting, instrumental prowess, vocal blend, humor and showmanship. A former backup vocalist for Elton John, Cindy Bullens has also written songs, scores and musicals. A prolific writer, Deborah Holland was the singer and songwriter for Animal Logic, and she currently teaches music at Vancouver, B.C.’s Langara College. Wendy Waldman’s band Bryndle debuted in the 1970s, and she’s also found success as a soloist, songwriter and music producer. So, between the three of them, they have at least 100 years of combined experience. Their current aptitude and craftsmanship are fully displayed in the band’s repertoire influenced by folk, blues, country and rock.

The cooperative effort may be best displayed in those five songs, jointly written and arranged by the ladies (“Catch Me If You Can,” “I Don’t Care At All,”  “5th of July,” “Rosalinda,” “Every Body” and “Soul”). At the same time, tune into each songwriter’s moxie and individualism in their self-penned numbers, such as Waldman’s “Can’t Stop Now,” Bullens’ “January Sky,” and Holland’s “My Favorite Joe.” The only song from public domain, “Green Rocky Road,” has been recorded by many, including Emmylou Harris, and it’s a perfect cover for a trio that emphasizes sumptuous vocals. It’s a lean song, in a spare setting, to recount the story of Little Miss Jane runnin’ to the ball: “Don’t you stumble, don’t you fall, Don’t you sing and don’t you shout, When I sing come runnin’ out.” The Refugees’ vocals are sure to have the same impact on others.

Building their regional fan base for several years, it’s time for The Refugees to put a bigger dent in the public consciousness. Three is an impressive effort with considerable vigor and downright brawn. Without too many gimmicks, the music is clever. With a nice final hook, they get their groove on in their closing statements about finding “a way to follow the dream” and “time to put a message on the line.” It could be the story of their lives, careers and music. Who knows what The Refugees are fleeing from, but their supple music should find a home in every  Americana enthusiast’s collection.

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