The Maes used to be The Mae Trio – and released two albums and an EP under that name – but the departure of founding member Anita Hillman has resulted in the duo of sisters Maggie and Elsie Rigby, their divine voices and their skills with multiple instruments: banjo and guitar for Maggie and violin and mandolin for Elsie. The Maes have now released their third album, which is self-titled and, frankly, sublime.
The album draws on various folk traditions, including those of the Maritime Provinces in Canada (as evident on track 3, ‘Head Over Heels’), which in turn are in the lineage of the Celtic music of the Scots and Irish immigrants who landed on those shores and have maintained tight-knit communities ever since. (For modern representatives of that lineage, look to Ashley MacIsaac and Madison Violet.) The Maes recorded some of this album’s tracks in Canada, some in Scotland and Ireland, and the remainder in their home town, Melbourne. The result is ten songs that become more beautiful and emotional each time you listen to them.
These are songs that are heartfelt and heart exposing and heartbreaking; they are sentimental in an open-eyed way, and often unexpected in the path their stories take. They are honest and vulnerable, and the Maes unabashedly use their voices to take us to those places. There is no point, after all, in writing lyrics that open a door to the listener if you can’t take that listener by the hand as they walk through.
The songs draw clearly draw on the sisters’ experiences but are universal in their specificity. It’s impossible to imagine that they would not be understood all over the world, and in decades’ time. Indeed, The Maes travel the world performing and no doubt they are welcomed there as warmly as they should be here.
This album is a gift, but as with all music it’s one that requires reciprocity: we have to pay attention and commit to receiving this music with the generosity that it’s been offered. That’s when we understand that is an album of riches, timeless but timely: in a bruising world, how rare to have this tenderness and understanding offered to us as a piece of art, and of craft, and in this time and place.
The Maes is available now.