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Harmony train

With a new CD to celebrate, The Boxcar Lilies pick up steam

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Katie Clarke, Stephanie Marshall and Jenny Goodspeed are The Boxcar Lilies.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Katie Clarke, Stephanie Marshall and Jenny Goodspeed are The Boxcar Lilies.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>The Boxcar Lilies

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    The Boxcar Lilies

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Katie Clarke of The Boxcar Lilies

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Katie Clarke of The Boxcar Lilies

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Boxcar Lilies stuff

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Boxcar Lilies stuff

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Katie Clarke, Stephanie Marshall and Jenny Goodspeed are The Boxcar Lilies.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>The Boxcar Lilies
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Katie Clarke of The Boxcar Lilies
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Boxcar Lilies stuff

The Boxcar Lilies could never have foreseen the two years that followed the release of its debut album, “Heartwood.”

Within months of the January 2011 release, the local female trio heard that its Americana music was playing on radio stations across the country. The band also performed at folk conferences, making new connections and fans.

And while the members once had to reach out to line up gigs, venues all over the Northeast and down the Atlantic coast were now approaching them. The Lilies played in The Birchmere music hall in Alexandria, Va., had a gig at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia and saw a dream come true when the trio performed at the Iron Horse in Northampton.

“It opened doors for us that we weren’t even dreaming (about),” said Jenny Goodspeed, 43, of Ashfield.

The members of the Lilies aren’t planning on ditching families and their day jobs for a life on the road.

Katie Clarke is a licensed marriage and family counselor with her own private practice. Stephanie Marshall is a mother of two, does some contract work for Greenfield Energy Park and owns the construction company Turn Key Builders with her husband. And Goodspeed works part-time as a research analyst for the University of Massachusetts.

But the musicians do fill up their weekends with shows, including one this Saturday night at The Arts Block in Greenfield. The band will also be at the Green River Festival in July. The Lilies performed at the festival two years ago and will be playing on Sunday, July 21, at
1 p.m. on the River’s Local Hero Stage.

The Arts Block show will be all about the band’s new album, “Sugar Shack” — the second-most played album on folk radio in May, according to a Washington disc jockey who compiles weekly playlist counts from radio stations across the country.

While “Heartwood” could be defined as bluegrass or country, the Lilies classify this album as contemporary, as “less stringy and more blendy.” Accompanying the trio’s acoustic guitars are pedal steel guitar and the Dobro, a type of resonator guitar. And a Wurlitzer piano factors into this mix this time around.

Still, what makes the Lilies the Lilies, and the thing that all three singers said they sought for their entire music careers, is harmony — the convergence of their three voices, each bringing its own history of music influence.

Clarke, 45, from Conway, did some singing in San Francisco during a 15-year stay there. But it was when she moved to the Pioneer Valley 10 years ago that she really began to write and play bluegrass and old-time country.

Marshall, 43, from Greenfield, is the group’s “rocker lily” — channeling Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash into a solo career in Nashville, Tenn. When she moved to the area, she sought out fellow musicians and eventually found Clarke.

And Goodspeed, who said she grew up listening to Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, had a solo career in Colorado in the late 1990s before moving east.

The trio met through local concerts in 2009. And then, over beers and nachos at a restaurant, they brainstormed band names until deciding on the “Boxcar Lilies.”

The artists were immediately excited about their harmony potential, the way their voices blended together almost effortlessly. In their first recording sessions, they let the magic occur quickly and naturally.

But “Sugar Shack,” said the Lilies, features more complex harmonies.

In the title track, for instance, the Lilies use a three-part harmony to sing about making maple syrup in a western Massachusetts hilltown. The artists are supported by only a simple bass line.

And the success of the last song, a cover of James Taylor’s “The Lonesome Road,” depends solely on the singers’ voices since they chose to perform it a cappella.

“We each take turns singing lead on whole songs mostly,” said Marshall. “But, just recently we started switching leads in the middle of one particular song and hope to do more of that because it’s fun.”

The women, who all sing and play guitar, in addition to other instruments, each brought songs to the table when they first began thinking about “Sugar Shack” last year.

Clarke penned six songs for the album, including the opening track “Lightnin’” — a fast-paced song, featuring a fiddle, about a man with lightning in his hands.

Goodspeed wrote four songs, including the title track. But her favorite song on the album is a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

“Our producer Lorne Entress really captured the way our three different voices can come together in such a wonderful way,” said Goodspeed. “For me that’s the best part of being a Boxcar Lily — making harmonies that create a little magic and give you goosebumps.”

The Lilies recorded the album over four months this winter. The trio is backed on “Sugar Shack” by nine instrumental artists, some of whom will join the Lilies this Saturday.

“From my perspective, I think the album ... reflects some of the songwriting growth that’s happened with us,” Clarke said.

“We’ve got a really nice sound with some really top-notch musicians that we brought in,” she added, “that really add a lot of beautiful texture, without taking away some of the simplicity, from what makes us us.”

It was an album made without a record company, powered by fans. On the fundraising website Kickstarter.com, 238 backers pledged $13,445 in 35 days. The Lilies viewed the fundraiser as a pre-sale of their record, as an investment in their band, and were ecstatic about its success.

And so, for an album by local artists, paid for in part by local fans, it only made sense to the Lilies to have the kick-off show in downtown Greenfield.

It will be a night, they said, that’s focused on their new material. There will, perhaps, be some “Heartwood” tracks as well as some covers. The Lilies said Saturday’s concert will have a “fuller” sound than their standard trio show, because some of the band’s instrumental artists are also planning on attending. Drummer Rick Mauran, bassist Paul Kochanski, guitarist Jim Henry and multi-instrumentalist Michael Nix are scheduled to play along.

The show starts at 8 p.m. at the Arts Block, with light fare served from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tickets are $18 at the door and $15 in advance. They are available at www.artsblock.com and the World Eye Bookshop, 156 Main St., Greenfield.

For more information on The Boxcar Lilies, including music samples and a video clip of the band playing at the Iron Horse, go to www.boxcarlilies.com.

Staff reporter Chris Shores started at The Recorder in 2012. He covers education, health and human services. He can be reached at cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. His website is www.chrisshores.com.

Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at pfranz@recorder.com or 413-772-0261,
ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.

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