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The Burns Sisters: In three-part harmony

The Burns Sisters will celebrate the release of their new CD "Wild Bouquet" at a special Folkus Project concert at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20 at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church, 3800 East Genesee Street, Syracuse. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and refreshments will be available. The new album features a variety of traditional and original material, from ballads to topical songs of social awareness and commitment.

"We're political and emotional. The idea is to feel the music, to have it come from the heart, not the head," says Annie, one of the trio of Ithaca-based sisters who have become a mainstay of the Upstate music scene.

Their moving version of Leonard Cohen's "Democracy" offers real optimism for troubled times. The poignant "Bring Them Home" supports the troops by wishing for the safe return of those Americans placed in harm's way. Steve Van Zandt's "I am a Patriot" is a stirring song they've been performing for years, now more provocative and relevant than ever. Also included are two Woody Guthrie songs, "Vigilante Man" and "God's Promise," and a contemplative, reverent version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's requiem "Pie Jesu."

As good as the album is, though, the only way to truly know the Burns Sisters is to see them live. With their dynamic on-stage presence and graceful, sometimes booming harmonies, the trio of Jeannie, Annie and Marie easily span country, folk and pop stylings. Their concerts are exhilarating and even raucous, bursting with soul and heartfelt emotion. With passionate voices and intelligent lyrics, thy convey hope and idealism without sentimentality.

Growing up in a family of 14 near Binghamton, the sisters have been singing together their whole lives. They've developed an instinctive, homespun style of harmonizing with lush, expressive layers that seem to fit together naturally.

"Things were very musical around the house," says Marie. "Our mother sang at church and at weddings and she had all of us learn to sing like the Andrews Sisters." Although they're based in the Ithaca area, the trio has become known internationally and was featured at this year's Philadelphia Folk Festival.

As they tell stories of relationships, trials and troubles of life, the tight harmonies and lively spirit of the Burns Sisters bring an exuberant beauty to their music and joy to the hearts of those who hear it.

Admission to the concert is $15. For reservations, email tickets@folkus.org or call 440-7444. Learn more about the Burns Sisters at burnssisters.com.

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