By DAVID W. WANNOP
For 21st Century Media
If you have a chance to speak with Meaghan Kyle, Jess McDowell and Maren Sharrow, do so. They are playfully delightful in conversation. They are also masters of three-part harmony. Their backing band for their group No Good Sister has Mike Slomo Brenner on steel guitar, Hoagy Wing on drums, and Anam Owili-Eger on keys. These three men have been in many Philly area bands — too many to count. Kyle, McDowell and Sharrow are reviving Americana with a country/folk leaning. Many acts are trying to do this style now, but these women truly have it going from the songs, to stage presentation, to overall career plan. I spoke with them at Good Karma II. located at Tenth and Pine streets in Philadelphia recently.
McDowell described how they met. “I met Meaghan through Fist Full of Sugar and we performed together in that band, When we started a new project we were wondering who the third person should be and Meaghan said she knew the perfect third person.” Sharrow added, “I moved here to Philly when I got married and my husband started working for the Philadelphia orchestra in the film department. I met Meaghan in our neighborhood, Fairmount, at a local neighborhood pub where I was working. We have mutual friends. Then I met Jess through Meaghan.
Kyle responded, “I like to put people together. In Fist Full of Sugar, we are definitely more background in that project. I got a call from Michael and Lisa Gall, a married couple who wanted to do a harmony group. Then I met Jess.” Fist Full of Sugar is a band from Ardmore that McDowell and Kyle still sing with.
McDowell stated, “I was Meaghan’s understudy for a couple of shows.” Kyle asserted, “They thought that because Jess and I have pretty strong personalities that we would butt heads, but we absolutely love each other.” McDowell concurred, answering, “They thought we’d fight to get extra attention but we decided to team up and get exponentially more attention.”
“Certainly, the last thing anyone expected was the formation of a new group with McDowell, Kyle and Sharrow.
Kyle is originally from Columbia, Md., Where she did theatre work before moving to Philadelphia. Sharrow is from Detroit and is a stay at home mom these days. Jess grew up near Newtown, Bucks County. The prior generations of her family did harmony singing, but with one unmusical brother, McDowell had to go outside to satisfy the urge to sing.
Sharrow tried to make it as a solo act and recorded an EP of her songs. She even did vocals for a Detroit hip-hop band. She seems very comfortable with her role in No Good Sister, especially since she is influenced by the likes of Patti Griffin and other songwriters of the past and current day. Kyle brings influences from Bonnie Raitt to the Indigo Girls. McDowell brings a bit of Patsy Klein and Tammy Lynette into the mix.
McDowell graduated from Temple University and is teaching at a kindergarten in Bala Cynwyd. She endeavors to make her whole life part of her creative energy and she often thinks of song ideas during work. Sharrow has a young child, so she has to fit the music into her schedule cleverly. Kyle gets to work at 5:45 a.m. to work as a server at the Four Seasons Hotel. “It’s a careful balance between coffee and nap,” said Kyle. All of them report great support for their music at home and at work.
No Good Sister won a contest at World Café which presented them with recording time at Studio 825 in Wilmington, Del. Plus the chance to play SXSW. Due to a prior family gathering, Sharrow flew from Hollywood to Austin Texas to perform at their showcase, while Jess and Meaghan stayed much longer soaking up seminar contacts and listening to other musicians. They had a rock star moment with their “trashed” hotel room. Kyle said, “There was a leak in the hotel ceiling so I had to sleep surrounded by trash cans. We went out and when we came back half the ceiling was gone.” With the entire area booked they could not be switched to another room. Somehow, the conversation shifted to McDowell singing the praises of camping at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Kyle retorting about how she can stay for free at Four Seasons Hotels.
To my question about image Kyle quipped, “Are you asking if we are hot?” McDowell explained, “We go for a throw-back, pin-up look.” Some of their songs sound so authentic it seems as though they may be forgotten oldies, but the truth is they simply write tunes in a manner that non-Nashville roots music deserves. Kyle offered, “We all share lead vocal duty. We all share the writing equally as well. It could be just a couple lyrics or a finished song, but we come together and shape it. Sometimes, I know what the bridge is but the chorus isn’t working or maybe I don’t have a bridge.” McDowell agreed, “I used to have songs that were 75 percent done that would get completed. Now, I just take it to these two ladies and something happens. It becomes something I’m really proud of.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Gallerist, No Good Sister, Chelsea Mitchell
WHERE: Melodies Cafe, 2. E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 3.