Morning Ritual is a collaboration between Portland-based composer Ben Darwish and twin singers, Katelyn and Laurie Shook, aka Shook Twins. The band also featured dapper band mates, multi-instrumentalist William Seiji Marsh and drummer Russ Kleiner.
The band eased their way on stage and greeted the gathered crowd. The casually attired Darwish, t-shirt and jeans, sat barefooted and relaxed at his keyboards while featured band members, the slender, flowing brunette Shook Twins were seasonally stylish in sun dresses and warmly graced the stage.
Given their album provides ample folk imagery; telling the tale of a troubled husband and wife's land plagued by drought and their desperate search for a rumored oasis, where they soon come to realize their discovery presents further uncertainty. Morning Ritual’s songs possess a mesmerizing element stylishly transported by Darwish’s finely crafted compositions, and are accompanied by the sincerely optimistic vocal melodies shared between Darwish and the earnest, engaging warmth of the Shook Twins.
Featuring song’s from Morning Ritual acclaimed self-released debut, 2013’s A Clear Blue Pearl, they started the evening with the album’s lead track The Dought, where the Shook Twins radiant vocals soared over Darwish’s tender, piano ballad, belying the song’s lyrical despair. The next song continued with the anguished sentiment of Barren Land. With its introductory gospel call, the song was carried by an optimistic melody on the back of a R&B shuffle and guided by a ascending Shook Twin chorus. The song tailed off wistfully before it segued into part two, Underground, which is arguably the most dynamic song of the album. The track ventured into bebop-R&B shuffle reminiscent of some of Steely Dan’s work, sans cynicism, and replaced with gentle optimism while Darwish’s piano solo danced through.
Morning Ritual also showcased a trio of new songs, Step Out, Broken Light, and Let Me Be Free, soon to appear on EP scheduled for summer release. Each provided movement towards a soulful glow. Broken Light flashed a semblance early 70s Elton John with blended with jazz underpinnings, and Let Me Be Free shined expressively with spirited Twin vocals.
Concluding their regular set was the newly released So Cold, shining in all its silky, sultry R&B passion. Laurie's vocal lead was backed by Katelyn’s romantic coupling and grounded by the soulfully polished lead guitar of William Marsh. The band returned for a lone encore, led by the Shook Twins sweetly harmonized rendering of Tunnel of Light.
Although Morning Ritual’s music has been described as fantasy folk, evidenced and captured lyrically, Darwish’s refined arrangements pioneer a nuanced approach that defies a given genre and transported an admiring crowd effortlessly, and offered an inspired emotional sophistication that was flawlessly performed.
The tempered, reflective mood of Morning Ritual’s performance was an ideal fit at Holocene. And no doubt the band will be gearing up for an energized tide of upcoming outdoor performances that include the Oregon County Fair, Columbia Park Annex, and Music on Main in July and August that should not be missed. More information can be found on Morning Ritual’s website.
The evening began with moody electronic duo of Mojave Bird, and were followed by the bright, 60s soul-pop sound of Rio Grande who captured the warm and effervescence of danceable Beach Boys’ good vibrations.