Siren, the debut release from Portland's Five Letter Word, is full of sounds as familiar and welcoming as the smells emanating from a grandmother's kitchen. The album ticks all the boxes for folk and Americana music: delicately plucked acoustic instruments, the bittersweet pull of a bow across fiddle strings, and gorgeous, multipart harmonies.
What helps Five Letter Word—the year-and-a-half-old project of Leigh Jones (guitar, percussion), Clara Baker (fiddle, guitar, banjo) and Audra Nemir (bass)—stand out is the dexterity with which the three musicians pool their considerable yet disparate talents into an intriguing whole.
Five Letter Word arose from the ashes of the Crow and the Canyon, Jones and Nemir's former band. Baker met Jones and Nemir after a C&C show in May 2017, and instantly clicked with both musicians. The trio began rehearsing together and hit their stride after they were accepted to a Willapa Bay songwriting residency in November of that year, a move that kicked the project into high gear.
The resulting record touches on well-trodden tropes of Five Letter Word's chosen genre. But what makes Siren work—beyond the trio's goose bump-inducing harmonies—is the record's ability to highlight each member's divergent passions and talents. Murder ballads like "Cast Iron Skillet" and "Rumor of the Money" stand next to darling songs like "More Than Your Dog," which is about wanting more attention from a lover than he gives his dog. The languid, horn-assisted jazz of "Bills in the Mail" recalls Norah Jones' early records, and the sultry "Easier to Go" is a song about a relationship that sounds as if it was written for the bedroom.
In lesser hands, that testing of folk and Americana's boundaries might come off as disjointed. But Five Letter Word commingles their talents and influences into a dreamy brew. The band feels tailor-made for the Northwest String Summit stage (the group's biggest triumph thus far is winning the band contest at last year's iteration of the famed festival).
But Five Letter Word shows a great deal more dedication to songcraft and harmony than most bands in that jam-oriented scene. Siren offers a lovely 38 minutes of respite, and provides the listener with a feeling that's akin to drifting pleasantly on a lake of chardonnay, far away from the trials and travails of the world back on shore.
SEE IT: Five Letter Word plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., mississippistudios.com, with Left Coast Country and Bart Budwig, on Thursday, Jan. 10. 8 pm. $5. 21+.