Nerissa & Katryna Nields
What does a folk-rock sister duo write about after twenty years in the music business; a career which produced fifteen CDs, three books, a DVD, a thriving children’s music educational empire, four children and two husbands (one apiece)? The full catastrophe of course. Taken from the line from Zorba the Greek: “I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe,” the Nields sisters have created a powerful, passionate, thoughtful, humorous work that explores the crazy ride that is this insane twenty-first century idea that in a post-feminist world it might somehow be possible for a woman to raise her children, maintain her relationship and career and contribution to her community while tending to her artistic soul at the same time.
If it is possible, the Nields come damn close with The Full Catastrophe, their sixteenth album in two full decades of work. Since the heyday of their legendary band The Nields they have strictly reduced their touring to make time to see their kids’ piano recitals, soccer games and school pageants while still maintaining a strong presence in the folk world, branching out to writing books and teaching workshops. But coming close, in fact, success itself, they insist, is beside the point. The point is to surrender to the mess. Lots of women could and should win gold medals for the Great Juggling Act, but what Nerissa and Katryna are more interested in is being present to the bare experience of life, to get out of the whirlwind created by Facebook, iPhones, to-do lists and day planners to notice what a miracle it is to watch life go by. As Nerissa writes in the second track on the CD, “I don’t need the good life; I just need lifeƒ If you’ll see me that way/with my feet covered in clay/I’ll meet you back at the fruit tree.”
The CD itself is a product of immense patience.
Always in the past, the Nields have made their CDs in a period of weeks, hunkered together while eating, breathing, sleeping the album. They’d emerge, ravenous for performing, their fingers and voices trained to the tunes. This time was different. They started recording this CD in December 2009. The oldest song was written in April 2006 (“I Choose This Era,” by Nerissa for the baby still a few weeks away from being born), and there are others written in the Bush era (most notably “Good Times Are Here,” for Nerissa & Katryna’s father during Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency). “We had exactly three hours, one day per week in which to work, and that was during a good week. Most weeks someone’s child was sick, or Nerissa insisted on going to a yoga class to deal with her wrist tendonitis, or Dave was exhausted from too much fun teaching teens to rock & roll,” says Katryna. “Often we had gigs, and on those days we rested our voices for the evening’s performance.” Kids had birthday parties and play dates and, these days, their own performances. Husbands demanded attention. And then songs needed re-recording because after playing them out for a while, they had grown beyond and away from the basic tracks. So Nerissa wrote more songs. They discarded older ones. They got some help from their friends (Dar Williams, Ben Demerath, Tracy Grammer, Jazer Giles, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers). And finally, over two years later, one late winter day, Katryna sang her last vocal, Dave made his last edit and Nerissa was convinced that all the songs that were fit to print were on the disc.
This CD is an offering to everyone who struggles to balance a home life „with or without kids or partner, with an artistic life, which is to say a work life, for all who labor honorably may choose to do so artistically. The older we get, the more precious both seem to us. Nerissa says, “I could certainly live without friends or family, but I am not sure I would want to. I could let my work go, say goodbye to the muse and my Les Paul, but that would be saying goodbye to joy. We might be happier simplifying our lives, but as Katryna said when we first began this project with the title track, happiness might be overrated. Our cups overfloweth. We choose those cups, and we surrender to the reality that this means many many spills need to be cleaned up.”
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