I had the pleasure of encountering Upstate this past January when I attended one of their shows by happenstance at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Formerly known as Upstate Rubdown, the Hudson Valley based band released Healing on February 8, 2019. The album is their first since adding vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Allison Olender to the group and was produced by Wood Brothers’ percussionist Jano Rix.
Upstate caught my attention due to their distinctive lineup and melding of multiple genres. The group is fronted by three female vocalists/guitarists, Olender, Melanie Glenn, and Mary Kenney, who create a rich soundscape of powerful harmonies. In “Who Knows,” my favorite track on the album, their voices blend together and crash down upon the listener in a wave of raw emotion. As soloists, Olender, Glenn, and Kenney’s individual voices and personalities add variety and intrigue to each song.
Olender, Glenn, and Kenney’s vocals are supported by Harry D’Agostino on the bass, Ryan Chappell on mandolin, and, what surprised me the most, Dean Mahoney on the cajón. The cajón, a percussion instrument of Peruvian origin and predominantly used in Afro-Peruvian music, adds extensively to Upstate’s unique sound, driving the beat as the group traverses the genres of folk, jazz, blues, rock and roll, and more.
While the music speaks for itself, the group’s energy on stage was also captivating. Despite battling sore throats with cough drops, Olender, Glenn, and Kenney sang with passion and zeal, and by the end of the show Mahoney was drenched in sweat due to the sheer physicality he put into playing the cajón.
My favorite tracks: “Who Knows,” “Going Gone,” “Young,” and “Crawl In”
Check out the rest of Healing below:
(Featured image by Patrick Capriglione)