One Hot Sister Act

Piedmont natives find a wide following for their high-lonesome twang.



Photo courtesy of the T Sisters

Riding in the backseat of their parents’ car as kids growing up in Piedmont, Erika, Chloe, and Rachel Tietjen had something of an epiphany while working out the harmonies of a Crosby, Stills & Nash tune. “We were starting to hear the sound of our three voices together in harmony and thinking, ‘This is something!’” Rachel recalled as she sat with her sisters in the kitchen of their Jingletown home.

The T Sisters, as the trio is now known, have yet to reach the major-league status of such earlier Oakland-based sibling groups as the King Sisters and Pointer Sisters. They’ve been developing a wide following for their rich vocal blend since they quit their day jobs three years ago, however, thanks to opening slots on tours by such nationally known acts as Amos Lee and the Wood Brothers and appearances on A Prairie Home Companion and many festivals, including three years in a row at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

“Supposedly, we have very similar vocal cords, but another thing for us is that we spend a lot of time together,” Erika said. “That helps our ability to let go of our own individual voices and find the common voice that we share.”

“I have a bell and I sound the alarm … It’s a sound of glory, it’s a sound of fear, but I can’t tell which for the ringing in my ear,” they sang on “I Have a Hammer,” an original tune from their recent self-titled sophomore CD, later that day during one of their monthly multi-artist house concerts in their garage. The women, all in their early 30s, delivered the catchy number about ambivalence a cappella, save for their own syncopated hand claps. Many in the intimate audience clapped along.

Several nights earlier, they performed at the Fox Theater as the opening act for their friend Amos Lee, whom Rachel had first met by happenstance in 2010 at a rock-climbing gym while he was in Oakland visiting a friend. Although they do most Bay Area gigs with a four-piece band, they appeared as a trio at the Fox, with Erika on guitar, Rachel on guitar and banjo, and her twin sister, Chloe, on a variety of percussion instruments, including stomp box.

“When we don’t have our drummer, I hold down the boom and the click,” Chloe said of the wooden box.

“She does a great job,” Erika interjected.

The T Sisters’ style was influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others they heard in their parents’ record collection. A high-lonesome twang in their harmonies on the Chloe Tietjen composition “Molassas” reflects their fondness for such country artists as Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks, and the sister trio SHeDAISY. Should the T Sisters choose to drop their acoustic bluegrass-imbued backing in favor of a contemporary country sound, as the Dixie Chicks once had, they might well become the hottest sister act in Nashville.

 

Published online on May 9, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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