If music were an entity capable of wrapping listeners in the most sincere embrace, everyone would be wholeheartedly hugged by Alison and Zoë Mullan-Stout’s performance at the Merrifield House in Scipio, NY on Saturday, November 7. The sister songwriters, whose kind smiles added to the pleasant atmosphere, exuded playful yet mature dispositions perfectly suited to this intimate, historic venue.
Darkness blanketed the chilly fall evening as attendees filtered into the venue through the side patio, immediately greeted by the homeowners. The space functions as part of the Concerts in Your Home establishment where homeowners offer their dwelling for performances. The concert took place in an add-on at the rear of the cobblestone house where an old barn once stood. A row of large windows against the back wall, each sill embellished with an assortment of small trinkets, provided an open yet homey feel to the rectangular event space. Soft ambient lighting accented by candlelight filled the whitewashed room with warmth. A hodgepodge assortment of foldable chairs, rocking chairs and a small couch provided an eclectic seating arrangement.
Alison and Zoë shared joint custody of a guitar, banjo and ukulele to backup their vocals, often harmonizing to effortlessly create a nuanced, balanced sound laced with subtle intricacies between their distinct voices. Zoë’s delicate vocals offset Alison’s more mature, soprano soul. A quieter demeanor paralleled Zoë’s softer vocals where Alison’s tenacity and sly witticisms between and during songs mirrored her strong singing style. Every song carried a story behind it, which one sister would introduce while delicately strumming in the background before diving in.
Their song “Lost in the Woods,” inspired by true events, recounts a time Zoë found herself in unfamiliar surroundings. Rather than allowing the circumstance to invoke a sense of discomfort or fear, the song embraces the predicament, honoring an appreciation for the forest habitat. Midway through the number, Alison playfully prompted the crowd suggesting, “This is the part where you guys make animal noises.” A response came in the form of howls, growls, bird chirps and fits of giggling as the audience reveled in making the song one-of-a-kind.
“Dirt” described a longing to be loved by a girl in the same way she tends so intimately to her garden. The first utterance of the line “I wish she’d treat me like dirt,” induced laughter from the crowd before the following lines provided clarifying context: “I wish she’d rub me off her hands on the back of her skirt/Keep diggin’ on me til her back hurts/Roll around in me/Dissolve all boundaries.” In that scenario, who wouldn’t want to be treated like dirt?
The mood shifted for a more solemn cover of Emmylou Harris’ “Deeper Well” before Alison and Zoë offered a few more originals including “This Song I Wrote.” An Alison original, the song was crafted with inspiration from two separate couples whose relationships were salvaged in part by music. Beautifully poetic, the song speaks of rekindled love with the line, “We got drunk on honesty and fell back towards each other/Remembering all the ways we fell in love in the first place.”
During set break, everyone filtered into the kitchen to enjoy hot tea from a wide selection of mugs and tea varieties already set out for guests to choose from. Homemade brownies rested provokingly on the round kitchen table. Guests mingled with the musicians and homeowners, enjoying friendly conversation. Curious adventurers were allowed to roam about the first floor, and some were shown the well-kept guest bedrooms on the second floor. The Abraham Lincoln themed bedroom featured a well stocked bookcase crammed with the chronicles of his life history. A bust of the former president and a replica of his trademark top hat governed the room’s affairs from the fireplace mantle.
Guests filtered back into their seats to hear a few more tunes, with a guest appearance by Eric Dwyre playing the ukulele and singing soulfully. The evening came to a close with the sisters performing the title track off their first EP titled “Home Is…” Souls soothed by the tender thought provoking songs of the sister songwriters, guests sheltered in the welcoming environment were made even more at home with Alison and Zoë’s shining orchestration.