When Daniel Parkington first saw his future wife, Cheryl, she was walking into a laundromat in Orleans carrying a guitar. This is according to Rose Parkington, one of Daniel and Cheryl’s seven children (five daughters and two sons) who grew up in Wellfleet. Daniel “is a singer-songwriter,” says Rose, adding that he’s “first and foremost a violinist — but he’s somebody who can play any instrument.”
Daniel was with his best friend when he caught that memorable first glimpse of her mother, says Rose. “They pulled their van over. He had to meet this woman. He said, ‘You want to jam?’ ”
Five decades after their parents’ musical meeting, three of the daughters, who perform as the Parkington Sisters, are set to release their third full-length album, Collide, on Sept. 18. Rose, 35, plays piano, keyboard, and electric and acoustic guitar on the record; Ariel, 43, plays violin and viola; Sarah, who says she’s “ageless — somewhere between Rose and Ariel,” also plays violin and viola. All three of them sing. Lydia, the youngest Parkington sister, joins them to play the cello on the new album.
Making music with her sisters is “beautiful and challenging,” Rose says. “There’s this unspoken intuition that takes place,” she says, when they make music together. Of course, there is also sibling conflict — long days on the road can bring out the worst in any relationship, especially those that are prone to bickering.
But Collide is a celebration of sibling unity. It’s different from the sisters’ previous albums, on which their compositions were less collaborative. For Collide, Rose, Sarah, and Ariel wrote songs “from the foundation, together.”
The album is a collection of three viewpoints, says Ariel. “It’s about the themes of living,” says Rose, “love, loss, heartache, hope.” It also features that special quality of sibling vocal harmony: different voices, layered, but eerily similar in timbre and tone.
Sarah remembers one of the band’s recent performances in front of a pipe organ. “I kept thinking how we are kind of a living organ,” she says — different pipes emanating music from the same body.
Collide has 10 songs on it. The title track begins with that pipe organ sound: the three sisters’ voices in close harmony, a folky hum, wordless, then with words: “We ran to the cliffs/ Held our breath against the wind.” For this song, Ariel borrowed fragments from her own scrawled poems and notebooks — written 15 years ago when she was living in Tucson, Ariz. — and, according to Rose, “mixed it with her current thought process.” “Collide” moves steadily forward, aided by a walking bass line and the rhythmic strumming of an acoustic guitar. “Love, it never ends/ Renews us again and again,” they sing. The sisters’ vocal harmonies glide eerily over the full band, repeatedly resolving into minor cadences. “Talk for hours of god and love and sorrow,” they sing — the song reflects upon itself, and the rest of the album follows.
“Livewire,” the second track, jolts listeners out of a folk reverie: the bass drops a firm downbeat with the help of a kickdrum. Over accompaniment from the bass, Rose’s voice enters, easy but firm, with a simple refrain that will repeat throughout the whole song, tumbling up and then down again: “Open the white winter night/ Where is the blue new sky?” Strings, in sly glissando, fill out the harmonic space. Rose’s voice has a certain captivating timbre: strong and sure, with a delightful flip between head and chest voice and with a tender upper register that lends delicacy to this song, which is otherwise so grounded. Toward the end of the song, Sarah’s voice enters, singing the chorus behind Rose’s elaborations, their voices blending effortlessly.
For this album, the sisters embraced a “bigger sound,” says Rose, with the addition of drummer Matthias Bossi and bassist William Flynn, who is Sarah’s husband. Other contributors include Jon Evans on bass and Chris Shaw on guitar and tubular bell.
“Socks On,” the third track, gets its life from the upbeat drumset part that supports it all: the detail, cool and smooth, of the electric guitar, the harmonic riffing by the fiddles, and the sweet, slightly unsettling double-tracked voice of Ariel. In the fourth track, “Dreamtime,” too, the drumset, with an introduction from electric guitar, announces itself, its partner in unison the bass, and defines the song: a rougher, almost grungy take on indie-folk. “Why’d you creep into the sanatorium?” sings Rose. “Who were you hoping to meet there?”
If “Livewire” is a winter song, then “Today,” the fifth track,” responds to it: over a lighter accompaniment, guitar and taps from the drum, Rose sings, “Winter was hard, an endless fight/ The gray inside pulled at the light. Tried so hard to get by/ Even alone I could not cry.” Then, “Running, I run ’til I turn back around and find it’s behind me.” The drumset picks up, the bass kicks into gear, and they’re off. “Today” is the shortest track on the album, at under three minutes. But joyful epiphanies are often brief moments — maybe that’s the point. “Today feels like the first day that I’m alive,” sings Rose, exuberant. The sisters harmonize on the chorus, to strange effect: the perfect fourth, an interval some consider dissonant, closes in on the last word: “alive.”
“Alaska,” the sixth track and the longest, begins with piano. “Sleeping in with my lovely one,” sings Rose. “Grab the blankets from on your side.” It’s a double love song: for the landscape of Alaska and for the landscape of a lover. Bossi is conspicuously absent — no drumming interrupts the languid pace of the piano or the gentle swelling of the strings — until Rose sings, “Oh, isn’t it bright?” Then the drums enter with infectious energy until the end of the song.
“I Don’t Mind,” track seven, is dark, heavy — like “Dreamtime,” a departure from the softer sounds of folk. Electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums give the song a grittyrock feeling. But the Parkington Sisters are recognizable in any genre: violins wail and shimmer, and Sarah and Rose’s vocals are done in tight harmony. “Crying Over You,” the eighth track, is gentler by far than “I Don’t Mind,” a different sound altogether, but the warmth of the strings and the significant role of vocal harmony make clear that the band is the same: a group that prioritizes depth, musical conversation, and collaborative storytelling.
“Loneliness Has No Home,” the ninth track, begins with a tune on keyboard, a synthesized metallic, nostalgic sound not heard before on the album, signifying that this song will take listeners somewhere new. The drums converse with rhythmic chant-like vocals, and the song sweeps forward: “I wanna be your home.” It isn’t hard to imagine that for the Parkington Sisters, growing up surrounded by people and sound, there wasn’t room for loneliness. The song also, so full of sound (and, it follows, people), allows no room for loneliness.
“Leaping in the Fire,” the final track, has the difficult task of closing the album. But the Parkingtons don’t attempt to imbue it with a sense of finality. The song is energetic; it calls for foot-tapping; it’s fun. Rose sings the main vocals, with backup accompaniment by Sarah and Ariel. And this song, unlike any of the others, ends with a fade-out. Listeners might choose to imagine that the music gets farther away, but it doesn’t ever stop. A silly idea, but for the Parkington Sisters, who were raised in a home where music never seemed to stop, it feels right.