9 p.m. Saturday
the Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley
Many people discover music, but for some, it discovers them. For Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira, music offered the comfort and purpose that home never did.
Traveling the country the last decade playing soulful, harmony-rich Americana, they’ve forged a whole new family to replace the one they left behind as teenage runaways. It’s a story the two relate in their song “Poor Girl,” off 2004’s appropriately titled second album, “Vagabond Lullabies.”
Told in two parts, the first recounts being 15 and finding shelter in a punk-rock house, where “Nothing in the fridge but a bottle of gin / Music was my only friend way back then.” The second segment is a lulling paean, haunted by steel guitar, as they sing, “Take me winding road, curve my troubles away.”
“We would have these monthly, big potlucks, and people would come with friends of friends. It was a word-of-mouth thing and it would always turn into a huge jam,” Russell said. “Both Awna and I grew up in different places and different ways, but we both had sort of unfortunate childhoods and left home really early. We were very lucky in that we met great people, many of whom are musicians who kind of influenced us in positive ways, and music became something that remains a lifeline for us.”
That spirit infuses the Canadian act’s pretty, loping country-folk and energizes its live shows. Spending so much time without a real home made the road a natural transition.
“When we succeed in transmitting some of the joy we have playing together, that’s basically my church or my form of worship in this world. It makes me feel better. My problem is when I’m not playing music, that’s when things get difficult,” Russell said with a laugh.
She initially formed the band with Trish Klein, whose room she took in that flophouse. Klein had recently formed The Be Good Tanyas with three other regulars in the place. Like that group, Po’ Girl featured beautiful harmonies over an old-fashioned, mountain-folk sound. Over time, their approaches have diverged somewhat, as Po’ Girl embraced broader, more textured tapestries employing strings, horns and whatever else was on hand.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on last year’s “Deer in the Night.” While its folk underpinnings are still firmly in place, the group employs a variety of instruments, including glockenspiel, Wurlitzer organ, accordion and clarinet, as well as guitar, banjo and Teixeira’s gut-bucket bass, in forging full, sonorous arrangements of resplendent beauty.
“We’ve just been really expanding our horizons musically and opening our minds up as to what we consider an instrument,” Russell said. “Bicycle bells are featured on the title tracks of ‘Deer in the Night,’ and I think they are perfect and just as legitimate as an organ, clarinet or what have you.”
The quartet ” which includes drummer Mikey August and Benny Sidelinger, who replaced Klein three years ago ” demonstrates its collective chops live, where they frequently switch instruments, although Russell avers it’s more about discovering different tones than displaying proficiency.
“We are all in some way accidental multi-instrumentalists,” she said. “You start to realize that each individual instrument has its own unique voice, and for me, it’s almost as though they have their own songs waiting inside of them that you can only access when you’re playing that instrument. I think it’s fun for the audience and, to a degree, demystifies it ” like anyone can play a banjo, anyone can play some piano. You don’t have to be Glenn Gould to make something sound nice on the piano.”
Po’ Girl has developed close friendships during its cross-country travels, expressing a great fondness for a Barry and Marjorie from Yukon, whom Russell called the troupe’s “surrogate parents.”
“Marjorie browbeat about 20 of her friends into coming to our first show at The Blue Door. Otherwise, there would’ve been no one there, because no one knew who we were,” she said. “At the end of the night, one by one, they came up and said, ‘Marjorie wouldn’t leave me alone until I said I’d come to the show, but I really enjoyed it.’ People like that make all the difference for a little band like ours, who are not going to be topping any pop charts anytime soon.””Chris Parker