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  • Three
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on June 30, 2012
Wow! That's all I can say. Just...Wow!!! I would have to think back a good many years to come up with another album that is this perfect! Smart songs, creative arrangements and harmonies from heaven...oh, my God, those harmonies! all comes together brilliantly, resulting in an album that doesn't bear one false note.
Having been a life-long fan of both Cindy Bullens and Wendy Waldman, I was thrilled at the prospect of them doing something together (along with third member Deborah Holland). Their debut effort, 2009's UNBOUND, was solid, but in no way did it even HINT at what was to come two years later!
Aside from the plusses pointed out above, I'd have to say the main thing that makes THREE so special is it's sense of cohesiveness....if you didn't know better, you would swear that The Refugees had been together for a decade or more (vs. barely five years), and that this was their sixth or seventh release (instead of their second). Seriously...there are times their three voices combined sound like one!
This is clear right from the start ~ the disc's opening number, "Catch Me If You Can", is simply stunning. There are SO many things to love here...Bullens' lower register, the seductive arrangement, the unhurried pace...but it's the vocals that ultimately blow your one point, each of the ladies take the lead vocal...AT THE SAME TIME! Working three different sets of lyrics, they weave in and out, never once stepping on each other's musical toes, layering things perfectly. Brilliant! (As a die-hard Fleetwood Mac fan, all I can say is, I WISH that band had done something like this when they were at the height of their three-part harmonies!).
"I Can't Stop Now", which first appeared on Waldman's last solo effort (2007's MY TIME IN THE DESERT), is updated with kind of a hoe-down rave-up vibe. I was on the fence at first about the new arrangement, but Waldman's spirited lead vocal, Holland's thumping bass lines and Sam Bush's buzz saw fiddle are all infectious. In the end, this toe-tapper won me over!
"Chain Stores, Malls And Restaurants" is an acquired taste...I'm sure this Holland tongue-in-cheek original is great fun live, but you've got to take it for what it is...tongue-in-cheek! That said, there's no denying that the arrangement is a blast....from the throbbing bass riffs and shimmering guitars to the quirky percussion, it all works. An acquired taste? Yes. Vacuous? No way.
"I Don't Care At All" is simply gorgeous, plain and simple. Great arrangement, great instrumentation...and those vocals! Whether it's individual leads, dueting or three part harmonies ~ just listen to them sing the words "All I know is..."! ~ this is master class singing! In a just world, this song would have been a HUGE radio hit. Ahhhh-MAZ---ing!!!
There's a gentle grace to "5th Of July" that is just mesmerizing. Odd little instrumental touches like mandolin and accordion all come together to absolute perfection, while Waldman's soulful lead vocal is adroitly cushioned by lovely harmonies. Transporting you to some corner French cafe, this is sheer musical perfection!
I like "7 Days", but I prefer it's original take off of Bullens' 2005 DREAM #29 album. Speeded up here, it also is given the "hoe-down" treatment. Fun, but I think the new arrangement takes away from the lyrics ("I was four years old/Ted Williams played in town/My mother took my brother/She said I was too young/Well, he died today/I never saw him play"). Still, I think it works in the overall context of the disc.
"My Favorite Joe" is another clever Holland original. As much as I like the song, she has to try something new (read: serious) on the next album. Oh, but that one point when all three gals sing "favorite"....!
"Rosalinda" is another fave...picture a female version of the Eagles in the 70's, and you have the general idea! Bullens' mandolin brilliantly anchors the song, while the vocals sparkle. From Bullens' "Ow!" to Waldman's "Uh-huh", there are just SO many magic moments here, right up to the closing whistle. Love it!
"January Sky" also originally appeared on DREAM #29, but this version is much closer to the original than "7 Days" is. Augmented by those killer harmonies, Bullens' lyrics are personal and heartfelt ("I crawl back into bed/Known I've worn you out/With my personal struggle/And my perpetual doubt"). Lovely...simply lovely.
"Green Rocky Road" is an old traditional folk song that Waldman has arranged in a way that allows the ladies to make it their own. Waldman's lead vocal is a thing of wonder, as is the whole cut...part folk, part blues, all doesn't get better than this!
Or maybe it, say, on the closing number, the sultry "Every Body And Soul." Opening with a boarderline snarl from Bullens, the song builds in intensity. By the time we arrive at the three part "No one", the song has grabbed you by the throat...and it ain't letting go! I recommend THREE? Well, let's just put it this way....The Refugees' sophomore effort was my 2011 Album of the Year by a HUGE margin....nothing else even came close! This is also the first five star review I've done in ages. Need I say more? (As with all my reviews, I'm docking the disc half a star for not including the lyrics).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2012
Guest fiddler Sam Bush and drummer Scott Babcock supplement the sturdy Americana sound of The Refugees' "Three" featuring the trio of Cindy Bullens (guitars, mandolin, harmonica), Deborah Holland (bass, accordion, piano), and Wendy Waldman (guitars, Dobro). While the three singing and songwriting women have years of experience (with 19 solo albums between them!), The Refugees is a Los Angeles-based collaboration formed in 2007. A couple years later, their debut album "Unbound" was very well received.

The distinctive group has spun many heads with their keen ability to build upon each musician's strengths revolving around songwriting, instrumental prowess, vocal blend, humor and showmanship. A former backup vocalist for Elton John, Cindy Bullens has also written songs, scores and musicals. A prolific writer, Deborah Holland was the singer and songwriter for Animal Logic, and she currently teaches music at Vancouver, B.C.'s Langara College. Wendy Waldman's band Bryndle debuted in the 1970s, and she's also found success as a soloist, songwriter and music producer. So, between the three of them, they have at least 100 years of combined experience. Their current aptitude and craftsmanship are fully displayed in the band's repertoire influenced by folk, blues, country and rock. The cooperative effort may be best displayed in those five songs jointly written and arranged by the ladies (Catch Me If You Can, I Don't Care At All, 5th of July, Rosalinda, Every Body and Soul). At the same time, tune into each songwriter's moxie and individualism in their self-penned numbers such as Waldman's "Can't Stop Now," Bullens' "January Sky," and Holland's "My Favorite Joe." The only song from public domain, "Green Rocky Road," has been recorded by many including Emmylou Harris, and it's a perfect cover for a trio that emphasizes sumptuous vocals. It's a lean song, in a spare setting, to recount the story of Little Miss Jane runnin' to the ball ... "Don't you stumble, don't you fall, Don't you sing and don't you shout, When I sing come runnin' out." The Refugees' vocals are sure to have the same impact on others.

Building their regional fan base for several years, it's time for The Refugees to put a bigger dent in the public consciousness. "Three" is an impressive effort with considerable vigor and downright brawn. Without too many gimmicks, the music is clever. With a nice final hook, they get their groove on in their closing statements about finding "a way to follow the dream" and "time to put a message on the line." It could be the story of their lives, careers and music. Who knows what The Refugees are fleeing from, but their supple music will find a home on my CD player. (Joe Ross, Turnstyled Junkpiled: An LA Americana Music Magazine)
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2012
There are few musical albums I've ever encountered that bring together such rich, vibrant singing and fine, engaging musicianship with such absolutely empty content. (Empty in the sense that I've heard more meaningful television commercials.)

First, I am not familiar with The Refugees earlier efforts, so I have no idea where this album falls within the spectrum of their oeuvre; it may be typical, it may be the best of, it may be the worst of. I don't know. I am familiar with Holland's work with Animal Logic, of which I am a great fan.

But some of the stuff here is simply beyond the pale. Holland's song, "Chain Stores, Malls, and Restaurants" actually has this entire phrase as the chorus. (I'm not joking.) A tongue-in-cheek attempt at wry humor (and social criticism, perhaps?) this is perhaps the worst song to be put to permanence since "Ina-gada-da-vida" in the late sixties.

The rest are forgettable (thankfully), silly, and amateurish.

The one song worth hearing more than once of the eleven on this effort is the last: "Every Body and Soul", jointly written by the three and which has some meaningful substance.

Can these women sing? Beautifully together. (Think of the Roche sisters with professional training, ramp up the quality a bit, and throw in some of the harmonic abilities of CS&N, and you have some idea of how nice they can sound.) Can they write meaningful songs? Perhaps. If so, none of them are present on this effort.
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