It wasn’t an expected way to spend spring break.
With a sizeable quotient of collegiate America setting their sights on sunny Florida, Lauren and Leanna Price had in mind a destination that wasn’t so far down the interstate, although the sense of adventure their journey promised was considerable. The twin siblings, now established professionally as The Price Sisters, devoted their week off to cutting a self-titled seven song EP in Nashville with some of bluegrass music’s most respected names.
“We went down to Nashville for the week, recorded it and released it at the end of August in 2016, which was when we started our senior year of school,” mandolinist/vocalist Lauren said. “Since then, we’ve been thinking about the next album, actually – a full length album that we are ready to record at some point this spring.”
The EP makes for an astonishing listen because its traditional slant, especially evident in the beautifully antique vocal harmonies, suggests an almost sage-like confidence one might not anticipate from a pair of 22 year old college seniors. You hear echoes of the Carter Family within the chestnut “What Does the Deep Sea Say” (the duo has often acknowledged its fondness for Doc Watson’s popular version of the tune), although the singing is just as authentic and authoritative during Marshal Warwick’s waltz-flavored “It’s Happening Again,” the EP’s lone contemporary entry.
“We really started singing – trying to sing harmony, anyway – when we were about 10 or 11,” said fiddler/vocalist Leanna. “Our parents always sang together and knew how to harmonize with each other. A love of music ran through our family from both sides. We could be part of it if dad was singing lead or our mom was singing harmony. Over time, that sound just came to us because it was what we were used to hearing.”
Though the Ohio born sisters’ fascination for bluegrass was a proud product of family environment, what has helped nurture the music they have created on their own was a transfer from Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Va. to the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University.
“We were playing a festival in Rosine, Ky. (birthplace of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe),” Lauren said. “At the time we were students at Davis & Elkins College but ended up stopping in Morehead at the Music Center to practice with a guy who was going to play banjo with us. He turned out to be a student in the program.
“Up to that point, we never really had that feeling you get whenever you visit a school and just know it’s right. But when we walked into the Center, something was really different.”
Part of the school’s spark came from Center director Raymond McLain’s history as part of a long prestigious family ensemble (The McLain Family Band) and his recognition of similar artistic kinship with the Price Sisters.
“We have always loved to sing with each other,” Leanna said, “and everyone at the Center appreciates that. Raymond comes from a family of music so he knows what that’s like. He is totally supportive. He understands we’ve always been together musically and that singing together is really what we like to do the most.”
The Price Sisters’ EP, the duo’s first release for the acclaimed bluegrass label Rebel Records, also sports guest appearances by Ronnie McCoury and Alan Bartram (of The Del McCoury Band and The Travelin’ McCourys), bassist Mike Bub (a McCoury Band alum), Charlie Cushman (The Dukes of Leicester) and Mike Benson (formerly of Special Consensus).
“These are some of the musicians we have looked up to and admired,” Lauren said. “I’ve been listening to Ronnie McCoury’s playing since I was little. But they were so nice to us and so helpful. It was such a treat to hear some of my favorite musicians in the booth next to us recording and then having that come out on our record. It was very cool.”
But will the experience of cutting the Price Sisters’ first full length album prove to be equally cool?
“It’s one of those bittersweet moments in a lot of ways with graduation coming up and things like that,” Lauren said. “But it will also be something really new. It’s a big step, but we’re looking forward to it. I think everything is going to turn out great.”
The Price Sisters perform for Red Barn Radio at ArtsPlace Performance Hall, 161 North Mill at 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Tickets: $8. For more info, go to redbarnradio.com.