The Willows' debut album Tea For Three is steeped in the musical influences of an era gone by, showcasing a fresh take on the group’s signature, nostalgic style. These dynamic ladies combine intricate three-part harmonies – unmistakably inspired by the Andrews Sisters, but far surpassing them in skill and creativity – with jazzy, pop-imbued instrumentation to get you up on your feet. Full harmonies and a sibling-tight vocal blend with themes of relationships, love, loss and longing, permeate the album. They’re certainly versatile and charming enough to be anyone’s cup of tea.
Tasteful, Parisian accordion by Tom Szczesniak shimmers on “Wishing Well” where it beautifully insinuates itself throughout, with sophisticated chord changes in the chorus along with swelling vocals. A nice nylon string acoustic guitar solo from Mike Freedman enhances the flow. Accordion also introduces the bouncy tune that asks "What are you waiting for?" and returns for a simple but effective solo. Bassist George Koller provides a masterful but understated foundation throughout the entire album along with Ben Riley on drums and William Sperandei on trumpet, though bassist Chris Adriaanse, drummer Max Senitt and trumpeter Tim Hamel take the spotlight in sunny tunes like "Breakfast In Bed," featuring a strong interplay between the counterpoint of lead and backing vocals, and in track four, the aforementioned "What are you waiting for?" In track two, where a lighthearted application of the adjectival "Fuddy Duddy" to a heart, gives way to a muted trumpet by Sperandei that really swings. From the jump, there's Riley’s Gene Krupa-like drum intro, that lights the song's fuse. The lyric here explains the trio’s nostalgic fondness for old-time jazz style, while the music is a perfect example of it. "Dancin’" is a sweet and breezy tune that paints a picture of the simplicity and beauty of a lifelong commitment between two people while "Old Friend" is a light yet moodier, sexy song about the re-kindling of an old spark, the renewed feeling of love and intrigue. "Bathtub Gin," one of the group’s first originals, is a fun, carefree romp that highlights some of the trio’s favourite things. The trio really get cooking with "Boy Oh Boy" when they pull out all the stops. Freedman excels with a guitar solo that recalls Django Reinhardt at his best and Szczesniak on accordion, again provides a solid base for the enchanting vocals. "Dear Gussy" keeps the momentum going with John MacMurchy’s Klezmer clarinet to balance the playful, percolating rhythm, in this effervescent tune that wouldn't be out of place at a bar mitzvah.
As fun as their toe-tapping numbers are, it’s their slower ballads that are their most engaging, captivating material especially because of their flawless vocal performances. Three songs in particular fit that bill: "Valentine," a lazy, strolling melody with lyrics inspired by the love story of Lauren Pedersen's grandmother; "Tea For Three" the title track – with clarinet and delightful, tinkling piano by Adrean Farrugia – where the chorus "Now if you don't mind I'd rather have tea for three, not just you and me," is the main message exploring the idea of friendship over romance; And "By The Window," a really pretty, slightly country and blues heartbreaker. The perfect choice for an album capper is "Never Judge," a kind of plea for a better, more conscious world where people aren't evaluated based on their looks or their names. As on all of the tracks, vocals that churn out like the creamiest butter leave the listener wanting “more of that please.”
The album debuted at #2 on both the iTunes and Nielsen Soundscan Jazz Charts in Canada. It also reached #6 on the national campus radio jazz chart in Canada and has received airplay across both Canada and the U.S.
"The interchanging pattern of their voices is irresistible. Utterly charming."
- Howard Druckman, Editor, SOCAN Words & Music
"Breakfast in Bed has a great upbeat sing-along melodic hook, while Dear Gussy is a klezmer-flavoured toe-tapping tune. Valentine is a mellower jazz ballad with storytelling lyrics that showcase their vocal nuances. All the string and horn instrumentalists are great, with special mention to George Koller (bass), William Sperandel (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Tom Szczesniak (accordion), and the recording/production teams."
- Tiina Kiik, Wholenote Magazine