It’s always better when The Refugees are together
The story of how female folk supergroup The Refugees formed in 2007 isn’t exciting. Nor, at first glance, is the group itself.
Cindy Bullens, Wendy Waldman, and Deborah Holland weren’t snorting lines of ants in Hollywood. They weren’t trashing hotels in New York. But maybe that’s the secret to their combined 90-plus years of experience in the music industry and Grammy nominations—smash one too many guitars, and you don’t get a next gig.
“It was pretty boring. We just knew each other,” Holland says of how they met. “We were all in the music business and our paths had crossed as they do in Los Angeles and Nashville or New York. We had been pursuing solo careers, and we decided to get together and go tour.”
But the power of three proved unstoppable. “We knew right from the beginning that we had a pretty special blend in singing together,” she says.
The Refugees have been compared to “a female version of Crosby, Stills, and Nash” with a better sense of humor. Better yet, they’re The Andrews Sisters waylaid in Appalachia, with their tight, three-part harmonies—or a Dixie Chicks sound-alike that emphasizes music over makeup.
The trio began by covering one another’s songs from their combined 19 studio albums. Their self-proclaimed “refugizing” filled their debut record, 2009’s Unbound. But the group has evolved since then, and on their latest effort, Three, Holland says that half of the songs are group originals. “The songs that we write together none of us would have written individually,” she explains. “There’s definitely something else that happens when we write as a trio.”
While each musician thrived individually, the trio’s synergy has created limitless opportunities. Bullens is a two-time Grammy nominee—once for her voice on the Grease soundtrack; and Waldman was nominated in 1993 for Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last,” which was narrowly beaten by Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” But together, they created something much more satisfying, and not just in terms of product.
“If the gig [was] great, I [had] no one to share it with, and if a gig sucked, I had no one to commiserate with,” Holland says of being a solo artist. “It’s a whole lot more fun traveling together.”
On their new record, for which they have embarked on a nationwide tour, their chemistry and musicality are evident; you can almost hear them nodding their heads, satisfied with a sound that a veteran musician can appreciate. “Can’t Stop Now” shows them spry and limber in an up-tempo shuffle that demonstrates Bullens’ years in the Nashville music scene. “I could be headed for a breakdown/ But I can’t stop now,” she sings.
Holland teaches music to college students in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Waldman is a music producer in Los Angeles, Calif. And Bullens? “You couldn’t get farther apart than Portland, Maine,” Holland says.
Despite the miles between them, the trio allots time to write, record, and tour together. The greatest testament to their professionalism is that when they unite, they perform at the highest level, with visible enjoyment. Their story may lack the luster of Aerosmith or Van Halen, but their polished product has the power to turn heads.
The Refugees play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Tickets are $12/adv, $15/door. 603-2294.