By now the majority of you know of my deep, abiding passion for vocal harmonies — it would be hard to miss with the conversations I’ve had with the Oshima Brothers and, most recently, the Brother Brothers. Well, this week I have a trio of lovely ladies harmonizing to beat the band: Pretty Girls Sing Soprano — made up of Ingrid Ayer-Richardson, Deana Gurney and Susan Mathews — who will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Annex of the Chocolate Church down in Bath. To help me prepare for an interview, the group sent two MP3s from a recording session they had, one was an original composition called “In Love” and the other was a cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.” I recently called Susan Mathews at her Portland home to chat about that show as well as her group — I begin by proclaiming my love of vocal harmony.

Mathews: We love it, too — that’s our thing.

Q: And you do it so well! How long have you been singing together?

Mathews: Ingrid and I started eight years ago in August. We all sing in a group called Women In Harmony which is a women’s chorus based out of Portland. Ingrid heard me sing and thought we’d do really well singing together and maybe doing some open mics. We didn’t know what we wanted years ago. She was a heavy rocker — she’s 20 years younger — and I was more of a folk kind of person. I brought Leonard Cohen to her and she was bringing Nirvana, so we started singing together and just really found the middle of that with bluegrass/folk singing. And I also dragged her into country. Then Deana, who actually is the accompanist for Women In Harmony, joined us about a year-and-a-half ago, almost two years ago, when our prior member, Shelly, left.

Q: Cool. Now how do you pick the material that you do, specifically the songs you cover?

Mathews: We just started doing originals about three months ago when Deana started writing them. But as far as the songs we cover goes we’ll listen to something and decide on it. Deana was messing around on YouTube and came across a song by the Sweetback Sisters called “She’s Gone Again” and said, “You guys gotta hear this — it’s a crazy song!” and we just learned it a couple of weeks ago. People come to us all the time and say, “You should try this song. It sounds like something you should sing.” And probably about 10 percent of the time that works out.


Q: Now I understand that you’re doing a performance at the Chocolate Church in Bath, correct?

Mathews: Yes, Dec. 8 is our CD-release party. Before, what we’ve always done were promotional CDs, and what we did this time is we have 13 songs — we got the rights and did all that — and recorded them in a studio. It’s an awesome CD.

Q: Just out of curiosity, how many of those 13 songs are originals?

Mathews: Three, and we’re also performing one written by friends of ours in a band called Sweet Wednesday. They’ve played up here — they’re from Massachusetts, they’re really talented.

Q: Speaking of vocal acts, I recently did an interview with a duo called the Brother Brothers, they have a mellow vibe to their sibling harmonies that is wonderful. I think you’d like them.

Mathews: We decided that we did “mellow” for a long time and I remember when “Ain’t No Grave” was the most rocking song that we did. Now we’ve decided that if we learned a slow song we’d have to learn a fast song, too. We gave a concert a couple of years ago at the Chocolate Church and one of my sisters came, at the end of it she was crying and I said, “What’s the matter?” and she said, “You sing sad stuff!” and I said, “Hey, it’s bluegrass!” (Chuckle)


Q: (Laughter)

Mathews: So, after that, at our next rehearsal, I said, “We can’t do this anymore, we need happier stuff.” We still do sad stuff, we just do it with a peppier beat, I think.

Q: When you do a show like the ones at that Bath venue, what do you have for musical backing — do you have other musicians there?

Mathews: Well, Ingrid will play guitar or ukulele and Deana is an extremely accomplished pianist. She’s accompanied the Portland Opera and is extremely well-known, so she’ll play keyboards and she plays an instrument called a cajon, which is a box with a snare in it. Our harmonies are the other instruments that we would use. In the past we’ve performed with people playing lead guitar or dobro or banjo or even pedal steel — which really was nice on a couple of songs — but what we found was that that doubled the harmonies, so it, in a sense, drowned out our harmonies. So, we can do the flourishes and we can do the instrumentation with our voices.

Q: I was hoping you would say that.

Mathews: When we do a song we don’t even have to hear it with harmonies. Before Ingrid would sing lead then I’d do several different harmonies and Shelly would pick one and I’d do the other. What’s cool now with Deana is we can do it at the moment. Like “Wildflowers,” we just started immediately harmonizing that. There are a couple of songs that we’ve done like that, that didn’t come with harmonies, but they have them now.


Q: Yea, team! What you end up doing is make those songs your own.

Mathews: Absolutely, and when you go to get the rights to them, they go, “Well, how much do you alter these songs?” and we go, “We don’t alter the words or the music, we just add to it.”

Q: What is the catalogue of songs that you draw upon for a CD or a show?

Mathews: It’s all over the place! We do “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin, we do “Zombies” by the Cranberries, and something by Concrete Blonde. Those aren’t on the CD but we do everything like that. We do everything! If we can pretty up a song, it’s ours.

Q: Is there anything, Susan, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Mathews: We do what we do because we love to do it, and to be able to pass that gift out to all of our fans and the people who have supported us, we appreciate them so much. We always love our fans, so come and hear us and sing along. I think the most important thing I can say is, “Support local music.” That’s the message we’d like to get out there.

Lucky Clark, winner of a 2018 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award, has spent 49 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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