Conservatory trained singers and songwriters, sisters Jessa and Beth Callen of The Callen Sisters have played music together since their teens and first attempted to start a band when both were students at SUNY Purchase. “What makes us unique is that we have a harp in our band (played by Jessa) and that our voices blend in a freaky-weird sibling way,” says Beth. They have dazzled audiences with performances throughout New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia. They were featured on BBC Radio in Wales and received a rave review from Harp Magazine who called their music “deftly textured, at times subtly baroque, pop-rock.”
The sisters have just announced their new EP The Light Bringer Project, which they will release track by track starting this November. Their album is a collection of 6 tracks about “shining a positive light on social issues and uncovering truths.”
Their third release since they came together as a duo in 2006, the siblings have opted to give their music an edgier, more pop sound with a more focused message. Beth says, “We wanted to create songs about social change, coming into your own power, and truth.” The first single “Silhouette” presents a more pop-oriented sound with the sisters’ signature sparkling vocal harmonies, to be released on November 29, 2012.
Beth Callen - Vocals, Guitar
Jessa Callen - Vocals, harp
Dan Castellani - keyboards, Piano
Chris Anderson - Bass
Kenny Shaw - Drums
- Silhouette (Single - Nov. 2012)
- No Shelter (2010)
- The Callen Sisters (2007)
* Tracks from "The Callen Sisters" have been played on
Radio BBC Wales
Harp Magazine CD Reviews: The Callen Sisters
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The lissome Sisters Callen—Jessa, on harp; Beth, guitar; both harmonizing instinctively as only sibl...The lissome Sisters Callen—Jessa, on harp; Beth, guitar; both harmonizing instinctively as only siblings can—have earned comparisons to Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, which is fine, for in these deftly textured, at times subtly baroque, pop-rock compositions (frequently leavened by producer Dan Castellani’s keyboards) one revisits the ascent of the Lilith generation. Yet the Callens also come across as far less guarded than those two self-styled mistresses of the world-weary. Amid the swirling prog-jazz of “Irrelevant” the protagonist queries, “Is it a crime to bear the mark of novice?/I hadn’t yet tried to break the chain” as she ponders why a relationship went south, while in the Joni Mitchell-like “Tangled Up” she confesses that she simply wants her man back. Loss is a big part of these 12 arresting tunes, true. But you get the sense that for the Callens, confronting it is what makes them stronger and lets them feel alive as humans.
By Fred Mills
First printed in Mar/Apr 2008
"Sisterly love, Guitar-harp duo at the Goldhawk"
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Sisterly love Guitar-harp duo at the Goldhawk by Sean Allocca At first glance it’s hard to te...Sisterly love
Guitar-harp duo at the Goldhawk
by Sean Allocca
At first glance it’s hard to tell the New York-based guitar-and-harp duo, the Callen Sisters, apart. The slender singer-songwriters finished each other sentences like only sisters could, while sipping tea in a Hoboken coffee shop last week. But while Jessa, 26, is a classically trained harpist with a flair for the ethereal, Beth, 25, is an edgy folk-rock guitarist. The product of them both is pure musical revelry.
“Siblings can really compliment each other,” Jessa said. “They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they can blend so well.”
The duo has blended an inspiring style of music since the tender age of twelve, when they first began playing together, “pretending to be Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.”
Now the Callen Sisters play the Goldhawk, 936 Park Ave. in Hoboken, on Thursday, May 21.
Sulky and serene
The Callen Sisters have been called Tori Amos or Fiona Apple-esque, and their sulky and serene arrangements are often complex and emotional. After mourning the loss of their mother five years ago, their music is unafraid to deal with loss, love and life. Their evocative voices can be angelic on Jessa’s more classically inspired offerings, or yearning and lustful on Beth’s loose and moody tracks.
“The best time to jab your sister is in front of a crowd of people.” – Beth
Although the women consider themselves an alternative singer-songwriter outfit, adult contemporary comes to mind. Their self-titled, debut album was released in October of 2007.
“We love pretty melodies with lush harmonies,” Jessa said. “But with an edge,” Beth added.
After years of playing together, working together, and living in the Upper East Side together, the sisters have since moved away, living 15 minutes apart in Westchester, New York.
“At first it was difficult to play together,” Beth said. “It felt like we were trying to outshine each other. But now, we are really blunt with our critiques and are close enough to say whatever we want.”
“It can be too easy to push each other’s buttons,” Jessa said, “especially when we were living together.” Now the women are working on a sophomore album due out in early 2010.
“We crack each other up on stage,” Beth said. “We make fun of each other a lot. The best time to jab your sister is in front of a crowd of people. I feel really, really lucky that it’s my sister I’m playing with and not someone else.”
An unusual instrument
According to Jessa, the harp is a “mystical” instrument and one of the oldest found in recorded history.
“It’s like playing a piece of history,” Jessa said. The instrument is rested on the player’s shoulder, while the hand and fingers pluck the strings.
“Harpists are known for living a really long time,” Jessa said, “into their 90s. It has a lot to do with the tones of the instrument going right into your body.”
Both women said they believed in the healing powers of music and especially the harp.
“That’s why I really play with her,” Beth said.
For more information on the Callen Sisters, please visit: www.thecallensitsters.com, or check them out at the Goldhawk, 936 Park Ave. in Hoboken on Thursday, May 21.
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Metroland: The Callen Sisters
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Here's something you don't see everyday: An acoustic duo of guitar and concert harp. Not one of thos...Here's something you don't see everyday: An acoustic duo of guitar and concert harp. Not one of those hand-helo Irish models; a taller-than-the-player, Harpo-Marx-style concert harp. That's what sisters Jessa and Beth Callen will bring to Caffe Lena tomorrow (Friday) night.
Well, that and their acclaimed songs, which "speak with the raw honesty of two young women tackling the tumultuous path life has dealt them." Speaking of "tumultuous," the Callen Sisters have earned comparisons to Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. They've also just returned to the road, after spending much of November recording tracks for their album debut, which is scheduled for release early next year.
The Callen Sisters will perform tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 22) at 8 PM at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). Admission is $10. For reservations and information, call 583-0022.
Mish Mash Music Reviews: The Callen Sisters
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At first glance, you'd think that two sisters playing a guitar and a harp would be something relegat...At first glance, you'd think that two sisters playing a guitar and a harp would be something relegated to quiet chamber music, but instead we find roots-rock based folk laced with a bit of edgy attitude. Jessa and Beth Callen turn the tables with their unusual instrumentation, and they prove that everything is not always what it seems.
Their music is at times playful, at others comforting, and at others brimming with the aforementioned edginess. The sisters share singing duties, and their voices blend together perfectly, almost as if they were singing as one. The addition of a backing band gives the duo a little more depth, providing a solid foundation for the sisters to build their songs upon. While the harp is definitely a unique part of the sound, it fits in naturally as a compliment to the guitar, not distracting in the least. It's a combination that surprisingly works well together.
Music-Reviewer.com - The Callen Sisters by Carmen Blanco
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The Callen Sisters’ self-titled debut is full of harmonic melodies intertwined with the sounds of a ...The Callen Sisters’ self-titled debut is full of harmonic melodies intertwined with the sounds of a harp and guitar. Although they name Tori Amos and Fiona Apple as influences, I cannot help but categorize their sound as a mix between Shawn Colvin’s songwriting and Mandy Moore‘s voice. Both sisters not only contribute their angelic voices, but both wrote all of the songs on the album (Jessa and Beth both contributed 6 songs). Folk influences are easily heard in all of their songs and you cannot help but notice a certain Celtic sound, especially in Lullaby, which also introduces a touch of reggae beat in the middle of the song, creating a new feeling within the same song. The song then changes back to the Celtic folk sound with the sisters sounding like members of Ireland’s Celtic Woman. Reincarnate is one of the songs that strays away from the folk genre and instead sounds like an early Mandy Moore ballad, in which the two young voices exude innocence and maintain a soft and clear angelic voice.
Lyrics are concerned with serious themes of life, love, loss but while the lyrics are filled with these “downers”, The Callen Sisters create hopeful and peaceful melodies to surround these difficult issues. The brief song Like You is one of the songs that quickly becomes stuck in your head, one which you catch yourself humming in your car and the chorus is very easily addictive: “The wind is blowing my house down/ huff and puff and it’s gone/ I just want to be like you/ you always know what you want”. The very beginning starts with the same rhythm as the every-so popular "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White Ts. The light strums of the harp, played by Jessa Callen, supported by her sister Beth playing the guitar, introduce this poignant song of inner-reflection which is soothing in itself.
The somber and blues-felt Irrelevance displays the influence of Fiona Apple and stands apart from the rest of the songs on the album in the laidback jazz feeling of the song that culminates in the clashing of electric guitars, captivating drums and the crashing cymbals at the end, leaving you with a taste for more.
Off the Record Magazine : The Callen Sisters
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In modern music we have broad genres that encompass every piece of music ever written. But once in a...In modern music we have broad genres that encompass every piece of music ever written. But once in a while, a musician attempts to break the bounds of a particular genre, blending different styles together to create a completely unique form of music all their own. Enter The Callen Sisters of New York City. Their music could be categorized as being folk, but with a blend of rock and pop. Combined with their soulful vocals and deep lyrics, the product is something different than what most are used to. They have been compared to the likes of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple.
The Callen Sisters, Jessa and Beth Callen, have been a musical duo since they were kids. "We would always sing together, both learned piano at a young age, both played woodwind instruments, and then both played guitar," says Beth, who plays the acoustic guitar. You can tell these two were born to perform together. "We were always writing songs and lyrics; it was second nature. We performed live in high school at various venues in Saratoga Springs." However, they didn't become The Callen Sisters until after moving to New York City in 2006. Since then, they have been busy performing and recording together.
Was there a person in you childhood who inspired you to become a musician?
Jessa: I would have to say our mother was our biggest inspiration. While she didn't directly inspire us (she was an artist and fashion designer rather than a musician), she insisted that we begin musical studies and dutifully facilitated music lessons for us, from paying for them to driving us there from when we were children until we could do it ourselves.
What was your first music-themed memory?
Jessa: My first musical memory would have to be the day I came home from school at around age 6 to an empty, locked house. This had never happened before and I was rather terrified. I was just walking down the driveway to seek refuge at my best friend's house when my mother sped down the road with Beth in the passenger seat. My mom was horrified that she hadn't gotten there before me and when tearfully asked where she had been, she explained that she had been out purchasing our first musical instrument, a Casio keyboard. That was the start of a blossoming career!
What made you choose as unconventional an instrument as the concert harp?
Jessa: I chose the harp after first learning the flute and guitar. I had gone to a new age convention with my mother in Massachusetts and saw a harp player. I mentioned to my mom that I could do that, it was kind of like guitar. The harpist stopped playing and said no, the harp is nothing like the guitar, it is like the piano and is the hardest instrument to learn. I thought this was a strange outburst but I didn't take it to heart and must have mentioned to my mother that I wanted to learn to play (although I don't remember doing so). When we moved to New York State, our mom saw an ad for harp lessons and asked me if I would like to play. The rest is history! As for singing, Ive sung for as long as Icould remember. I have a memory of myself at age 3 saying "I wanted to be a famous singer when I grow up!."
How do you go about the writing process?
Beth: Writing is different for every artist. Most of the time, a guitar riff or chords will come to me, and I know it's a song. I write words and ideas and fragments in a notebook and those become lyrics. Then I sew the two together. Melody and words have equal importance - I'll either alter a phrase or come up with a new melody to make it work. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, the whole song will just come to me. I love when that happens.
Jessa: I generally starting plucking on the harp and come up with the music. Occasionally the lyrics and melody come at the same time (which is always nice!). If they don't, I write the music, then work out of a journal filled with brainstorms that I've jotted down. I take material from there as well as write new words. I find lyrics are much more challenging to write than music!
What are you trying to say with your music and lyrics?
Beth: For me, music is heightened expression of human emotion. It's healing, it's engaging, it's real - I feel so alive and connected - even euphoric when I play. I hope to be able to bring that experience to others. Writing is like connecting with a higher source.
Jessa: I draw from my life experiences and attempt to express what is happening to me in a way that other people can relate to. I always loved reading others people's lyrics and saying -"Yes! I know exactly what you mean - I'm feeling that way too!" It was comforting to know that other people have similar experiences. Sometimes it's fun to throw in a random story that is entirely fictional.
What has your experience been being indie?
Both: Being indie has been an enormous learning experience. You are at once the writer, performer, manager, booking agent, lawyer, driver, record label, promotion team, etc...the list goes on. It's a big task. It is interesting to balance the business side of music with the creative...they are very different bags - but a successful indie musician masters both.
What do you have to do to make it?
Beth: Is climbing a mountain hard? Maybe if you don't have the right shoes, or a warm coat, or food. But it is a goal that makes you stronger, and the journey is breathtaking. It is really amazing to see what you are capable of when you take your destiny into your own hands.
Jessa: As for making it, this line is very subjective. Making it to one musician means an entirely different thing to another. If you are true to yourself, if you are following your correct path and are putting all your efforts into it, you will gain the success you seek and more than you could ever have dreamed of!
Who has helped you succeed?
Both: The support from friends and fans is the single most motivating factor in this process. To hear that one of our songs really moved someone, or they keep singing it in their head, or even post it on their MySpace page is truly humbling and reinforces our desire to express what we know in our hearts is our truth.
Do you have any advice you could give to someone who is just starting out in the music business?
Beth: Read a lot of books about the business. If you aren't professional, it will come across and people won't want to book you. Stay up-to-date (for example, have a current website and MySpace page) so you don't remain in obscurity. It is not egotistical - you, as a musician, must promote you! Be sure this is what you really want to do, because it takes the courage of a lion and complete determination. Remember, it's about the journey, which is always a learning experience. You determine your own success, whatever that means to you. Jessa: Be organized, prompt, and clear. Realize that you are running a business and act like one! The more professional you are, the more people will take you seriously and the further you will go. Remember to have fun!
Do you have any insane tour/band related stories?
Both: Working with your sister is pretty insane in itself. We live and work together so sometimes it gets a bit volatile. But deep down we really love each other and totally respect each other as musicians, so it usually works itself out. Carting the harp around is a task! Between renting cars that will fit the harp, parking in Manhattan, and getting that thing up and down stairs, we're always bound to have a crazy experience!
What can you absolutely not go on tour without?
Both: Our instruments! Ha ha! Also lots of nice pillows and a toothbrush and toothpaste!
Record Review from the Celebrity Cafe
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Ripe and ready for VH-1, The Callen Sisters have recorded and released their debut, self-titled albu...Ripe and ready for VH-1, The Callen Sisters have recorded and released their debut, self-titled album, and I have to admit, folk-ish music never sounded so good. Combining both the sounds and melodies only a guitar and harp combination can provide, they’re ready to take the airwaves (or internet…depending on how you get your music) by storm. The innocent flintiness of “Tangled Up” and the contemporary rock sound of the albums closer, “Wake Up,” shows that these girls have a musical range that’s needed in today’s scene of one-trick ponies. An enjoyable album, through and through.
Reviewer: Ray Anderson
Bring Me Up: The Sound: The Callen Sisters
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Sensitive folky sisters they are. The Callen Sisters have a slight rock edge, but their music is oh-...Sensitive folky sisters they are. The Callen Sisters have a slight rock edge, but their music is oh-so folky goodness. With a crisp sound and personal lyrics, they sing to you in lullaby whispers.
In a time of many copy cat artists, The Callen Sisters come forward for something new. Vocal harmonies, light guitar and a brilliant harp join together to form the perfect combination of emotions. For being a debut, their self-titled record opens the door to something light and refreshing...
Blogito Ergo Sum - Eight is Enough (Honorable Mention...scroll to the bottom)
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Jess and Beth Callen play harp and guitar, respectively, and both are singer/songwriters. While I ha...Jess and Beth Callen play harp and guitar, respectively, and both are singer/songwriters. While I have only ever seen them perform unplugged as a duo (the harp and guitar interact beautifully and the sisters harmonize like angels) the album was recorded with a full band, the result being, for want of a better term, folk-rocky. The set kicks off with "Anomie," one of my candidates for the best track on the album, with a chiming Byrds-via-R.E.M. guitar jangle that I've always been a sucker for. "Irrelevant," another top track, will likely remind folks of Tori Amos or Fiona Apple, but since I'm very old, I was reminded of Never For Ever-era Kate Bush (who, after all, influenced Amos 'n' Apple). "Like You" will likely not affect most listeners the way it affected me (or will affect anyone who knows Jess and Beth), as it is about their mother Kim, a very dear friend of mine who passed away in 2004 after an 11-year battle with cancer. They performed this song live and unplugged last year at Caffe Lena, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. On the record, though, it is given a rousing, almost Celtic arrangement, turning a sad song into an Irish wake-like celebration of a person's life. Likewise, "Lullaby" (I think one of Jess's songs; each sister wrote six of the 12 songs) is a standout solo acoustic song live, but on the record it starts off very sparely with vocal and solo harp, and other instruments gradually come in and built until the full band kicks in. It's very effective.
A lot of talk naturally focuses on the harp--after all, it's not the typical rock band instrument. (And for good reason; having seen Jess lug it around I have often asked her if she wouldn't be better off taking up the harmonica.) It doesn't have that typical arpeggio-y "harp-y" sound that everyone expects from a harp, but gives the songs a distinctive sound, without being distracting in its novelty. Half the time, you don't even realize you are hearing a harp.
Much kudos should probably be given to producer and arranger Dan Castellani who really did an excellent job of highlighting the sisters' talents while not letting the arrangements overwhelm the subtlety of their performances.
Lyrically, the songs focus on love and loss--given their family history, it would be difficult for them not to--but it's not all a dirge-a-thon; there is hope and beauty here... And there are moments when they seem to be having a lot of fun, too.
Despite my obvious bias, I am extremely impressed with The Callen Sisters. It's a stunning debut album; my initial thought (and I've listened to the album about five times now) was that "I knew they were good; I just didn't know they were this good."
Muruch - The Callen Sisters Record Review
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The Callen Sisters are Jessa and Beth Callen, a unique singer-songwriter sister duo that create an e...The Callen Sisters are Jessa and Beth Callen, a unique singer-songwriter sister duo that create an eclectic mix of rock, pop, and jazz with beauteous harmonies. Beth is a guitarist, while Jessa plays harp. Both siblings contributed vocals and songpens to their debut self-titled album.
"Anomie" has a steady acoustic pop-rock sound reminiscent of Juliana Hatfield or Kay Hanley. "Irrelevant" at first drops to a torchy vocal hush before spiraling into a tinkling instrumental helix.
"Like You" and "Life" begin with simpler, pretty strums but the arrangements soon whirl around again as the Callens' melodic harmonies rise. "Lullaby" and "Reincarnate" have an angelic sweetness about them, while the mournful "Almost Gone" falls into a darker, somber mood. Other tracks have more typical coffeehouse acoustics.
Sets from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Black & White
Down on Mission Street
My Mind's Made Up
In Your Name
My Own Way
Field of Poppies
All original music except for the occasional cover:
Across The Universe (The Beatles)
The Wind Cries Mary (Jimi Hendrix)
Helplessly Hoping (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
I'm Only Sleeping (The Beatles)
There are no upcoming dates at this time.