Husband-and-wife harmonies

Holly and Barry Tashian

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 17, 2004) – On and off stage, Barry and Holly Tashian are all about harmony. The husband-and-wife, country-folk duo blend their voices and guitars together in the classic country style pioneered by A.P and Sara Carter. When she’s not singing, Holly Tashian works as a Feng Shui consultant, helping people to bring harmony to their physical environment. In fact, harmony is such a keynote to their work that the word itself is the username portion of their e-mail address.

For the Tashians – who bring their musical harmonies to the Guthrie Center on Saturday night at 8 -- harmony is more than just the blending of two voices. It is a spiritual discipline.

“When Barry and I sing together, we are connecting up almost soul to soul as it were,” said Holly Tashian earlier this week in a phone interview from their Nashville home. “We’re just totally connected. It’s totally about the sound we’re making as the two of us. I really have to be very aware of what is Barry singing, how is he pronouncing that word, what note is he going to. It’s like dancing together.”

On another phone extension, Barry Tashian picks up the train of thought and runs with it. “I was thinking it’s like figure skating,” he said. “It’s like that with sound. And it has a capacity to just meld people together and blend. It can be almost hypnotic. It’s almost like we get into a place of bliss while we’re singing sometimes.”

The Tashians have been harmonizing at home and on stage for over 30 years, but most steadily for the last 15, since Barry completed a decade-long stint playing guitar and singing with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget or lose what I learned from that experience,” said Tashian of his time playing with Harris, describing what sounds like the equivalent of going to musical graduate school.

“Having a sense of taste in material is one of the things I learned from Emmy,” he said. “She’s marvelous when it comes to picking songs. I try to have the same respect for the material. The song has to really want us to do it for us to do it.

“Emmylou taught me what I needed to know so that when she disbanded the Hot Band I could pick up with Holly and continue on touring and recording and writing songs. It was really like a tremendous instructional decade.”

Since 1989, the Tashians have been regularly touring, writing and recording together. One of Holly’s first compositions, “Home,” appeared on a Grammy-nominated album by the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Ty England, the Lynn Morris Band, Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher, Daniel O’Donnell, Roland White and others have recorded songs by the Tashians. Holly has lent her voice to efforts by Nanci Griffith and Delia Bell, and Barry has performed with Gail Davies and recorded with Iris Dement.

The Tashians have over a half-dozen duo albums to their credit, including “Ready for Love,” “Straw into Gold,” “Live in Holland,” “On the Back Porch with Barry and Holly Tashian,” and, of course, one called “Harmony.”

The duo’s latest album, “At Home,” might be their favorite. Released on their own label, Copper Creek, it’s a stripped-down, intimate affair, featuring just the duo accompanied by acoustic upright bassist Ross Sermon. The CD was made at a friend’s home studio in response to repeated requests by fans for an album that reflected the sound of the Tashians’ live shows. No studio trickery, no extra musicians, just, as the title suggests, what it might be like to hear the Tashians the way they sound at home.

“I wish we had done something like this sooner,” said Barry. “I was surprised how good we sounded without all those mandolins and fiddles.” The CD includes a mixture of original songs, country classics by Buck Owens, Merle Kilgore and Harlan Howard, and an Everly Brothers-style tune “We Could,” by Felice Bryant that kicks off the recording.

The Tashians each bring very different musical backgrounds to the country-folk table. Holly studied classical violin in her youth. “I learned to play music on violin and piano,” said Holly. “I could read music, but it was hard from me to make the transition to get away from the music and just do it by ear. Especially in later years when I tried to play fiddle. I can play some, but it’s still so much easier for me to read music than make it up.”

Barry comes to the country-folk thing from a whole other realm. As the leader of the Boston-based rock group Barry and the Remains, formed in 1964 with friends at Boston University, he enjoyed a taste of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. The group was signed to Columbia Records, and for a brief time in 1966, experienced what few other bands ever did as the opening act for the Beatles on what wound up being that group’s final concert tour.

Barry sees a logical connection between the early rock ‘n’ roll he plays with the Remains – the band regrouped a few years ago and is especially popular in Europe, where they are regarded as authentic exemplars of early American rock ‘n’ roll – and the music he plays with Holly.

“Some of the first generation of rockers I fixed on were people with country backgrounds -- of which I wasn’t aware living in Connecticut,” he said. “I didn’t know the Everly Brothers recorded in Nashville. Elvis basically came from Tennessee. There’s a Southern vocabulary which the early rockers were based in.

“So when I was singing ‘A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,’ the other side of that record was a song written by Hank Williams. I knew it and played it at home -- but I didn’t know who Hank Williams was. But there’s this thread that keeps connecting everywhere.”

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 18, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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