The Haden Triplets’ new album: From Kanye to an unearthed ‘Will Rogers’ song by their grandfather

The Haden Triplets, from left: Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden
(The Haden Triplets)

The Haden Triplets, “The Family Songbook” (Trimeter/Thirty Tigers)

Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden were born in New York and raised in Los Angeles. Their dad was the late Charlie Haden, the seminal jazz bassist and pride of southern Missouri. Music is their inheritance, and the sisters’ new record, which features a host of stellar musicians, including their brother Josh, celebrates that history. Called “The Family Songbook,” it explores the roots of the Haden story, most notably the work of their grandfather, Carl E. Haden.

The elder Haden was a songwriter who had his own family band, and toured the South in the 1940s and ‘50s. Among his friends and peers were the Carter Family and Porter Wagoner. Now his granddaughters have unearthed four previously unpublished songs of his, and their new renditions ensure that their ancestral circle remains unbroken.

One of those songs, “Memories of Will Rogers,” is set in a little town in Alaska, where in wondrously concise language Carl conveys the story of writer and commentator Rogers’ death. By the second line, Rogers’ plane has crashed into frigid waters, and the rest of the song recalls the incident and celebrates the man, his ideas and the hope that he’s awaiting us in the sweet hereafter.

On that recording and the rest, the Haden Triplets’ first record since 2014 guides listeners on a tour of what writer Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America.” Rich, smart arrangements flow through the record, with instrumentation by musicians including Bill Frisell, Don Was, Greg Liesz and Larry Taylor, who accompany Petra (violin), Tanya (cello) and Rachel (bass, keyboards).

One standout, “Every Time I Try,” was written by their brother Josh for Wim Wenders’ film “Until the End of The World.” Its just-released video finds the Haden Triplets hosting an imaginary TV series from the 1970s, one that seems drawn from the same blueprint as the country variety show “Hee Haw.”


Another one sure to earn attention is the triplets’ reworking of Kanye West’s “Say You Will.” It’s a great take, driven by subtle acoustic guitar, tapped woodblock and an echo that suggests Martin Denny’s exotic cocktail jazz.

Steve Martin writes a typically smart take on the Southern California dream in his new bluegrass song “California.”

The most striking recording, though, is the Hadens’ cover of “The Wayfaring Stranger.” An ancient song about life, death and what comes after, it was covered by Charlie on his sublime late-period album, “The Art of the Song,” where the longtime instrumentalist, hardly known as a vocal powerhouse, offered a delicate, mournful take on it. The triplets’ version illustrates the ways in which they have taken the family’s cues and run with them.