By Alexandra Werner Winslow
BU News Service
A new bird has come to roost. After eight years with Esmé Patterson, Denver-based Paper Bird has added a new female vocalist to round out their harmony-rich blend of folk and blue-eyed soul.
Canadian artist Carleigh Aikins belted out a substantial performance at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club Saturday night, showcasing the extent to which she’s pushed the band away from the sunshiny Americana that once made them the darling of the Denver festival circuit.
“[Aikins] brought something out of Genny and I,” bandmate Sarah Anderson told local Denver paper Westword shortly after Aikins joined the band. “It feels like raw power.”
Backed by Mark Anderson (drums), Paul DeHaven (guitar), and Caleb Summeril (bass, guitar, banjo), Aikins’ vocals deliver a voltage new to the traditionally low-decibel Paper Bird.
Before joining the group, Aikins spent several years singing with Polaris Prize-nominated band Bahamas, and working on a side project with Josiah Johnson of the Head and the Heart.
Petite, curvy, with a warm voice whose scratchy quality reverberates on songs like “Parade,” Aikins’ new sound will appear later this year on the first album the band has cut since making the switch.
In person, Aikins’ impact is already clear.Where the women of Paper Bird used to appear in flowy getups reminiscent of the sirens in O Brother Where Art Thou, they now take the stage in black and red lipstick, shaking their hair and delivering powerful Western soul.
Opening for the Infamous Stringdusters on Saturday, their sultry cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” on which Aikins sings lead, exemplified Paper Bird’s new sound.
“The music that we’ve made [with Aikins] is what I’ve always wanted to play,” bandmate Genevieve Anderson told Denver’s Westword. “There’s a hunger there.”
For Aikins, becoming the sixth member of Paper Bird satisfied her own need for expansion: she doesn’t have any formal music training, and arranges her songs by singing all three parts, a system that requires collaboration with other singers.
“The opportunity to join an already established group with two insane female vocalists — it just felt right to instantly say yes,” Aikins said. “I feel so at home with these people.”
The feeling is clearly mutual. Performing Saturday, Aikins sang with her eyes screwed shut, but didn’t miss a step as the three singers undulated together at the front of the stage. In sync vocally and now stylistically, Paper Bird is officially entering a new chapter.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for for eight years,” said Anderson.