The Whitmore Sisters
Red House Records
An Infectious Genre-Hopping Melodic and Lyrical Americana Delight
As a fan of both The Mastersons and Bonnie Whitmore’s solo albums, I was delighted to hear of this collaboration between Bonnie and sister Eleanor (The Mastersons), which came about after Bonnie (the younger sister) joined Eleanor and husband Chris Masterson in LA during mid-COVID times.
Does it live up to expectations? Let’s see…
The opener, in title and musical terms “Learn to fly” has special resonance for the sisters who were trained to fly as girls by their dad, an accomplished Navy Air carrier pilot – there’s a natural ease about the sibling vocals – not so much harmonising, but complementing each other in a soaring, gorgeous rich duet over a mid-paced hook-ridden tale of growth and coping with life.
“The ballad of Sissy and Porter” takes a Cajun backbeat, fiddle and accordion from Cajun music stalwart and Joan Baez accompanist Dirk Powell; in a Mary Chapin Carpenter style (think “Down at the Twist and Shout”) to recall the legend of close friend Chris Porter, a singer-songwriter who died tragically on tour in 2016.
It’s got huge crossover potential, if it gets the airplay it merits – hugely infectious stuff.
“Friends We Leave Behind” visits a consistent theme of the (title of the) album – the spirits of those no longer with us, their memories and the feelings they leave us with.
It was the first song that the sisters wrote together for the project and it has a tender, reflective tone – gentle guitar, banjo and piano intertwine the vocals; but with a melodic strength that accompanies the lyric that we “carry on”.
The temp shifts upwards with the country shuffle of “Hurtin’ for a Letdown” – it’s about the thrill of the chase and in style it could easily have come from the Mavericks canon in its melodic major-minor shifts allied to classic countrypolitan strings.
It’s a H-I-T by the standards of anyone with ears!
An obsession with the idea of love is also visited on “Superficial World of Love” (a great title!) – it’s more of a philosophical ballad take on the idea of the “question of what’s good for me” – but we all know that we’re going to head down that road.
“Big Heart, Sick Mind” is a co-write with Erica Blinn and anyone who enjoyed the glam-pop of Aaron Lee Tasjan’s last album will recognise some kind of influence at play here – it’s an organ and synth strings, singalong with hand claps, exactly when they’re needed = Fun, Fun, Fun (of the enjoyable, but less PC kind in this song, anyway).
Title track “Ghost Stories” follows takes darker, more serious subject matter and its reverb-drenched vocals and soaring string-break add a gravity to an exploration of the work that needs to be done to create more equity and harmony in society.
This is sequenced against the more uptempo and personal “Ricky” with its 60’s shuffled backbeat and cautionary advice, reminiscent of earlier material by The Chicks.
A companion piece to earlier tracks “Hurtin’ for a Letdown” and “Superficial World of Love” is “By Design” about how some of us are addicted to heartache – the vocals are to the fore and tender and tremulous in tone, adding to the emotion at the core of the song.
This is followed by “On the Wings of a Nightingale” – a cover of the song that Paul McCartney wrote for the Everly Brothers – it’s certainly showcases the blood harmonies of the sisters very effectively – unsurprisingly and as in the previous track, the vocals are mixed up front and are punctuated by plucked strings and underscored by informal strummed guitar.
It’s an absolutely lovely take on the song.
The album ends with another story of souls who have left us, Greek Tragedy – this time it’s Justin Townes Earle (and others) who are the trigger for the song’s theme – those, who, like in a Greek Tragedy should be able to avoid a sad ending – but don’t.
Harp, swells of strings and an epic build give the song a gravity that leads the album to a thoughtful conclusion.
Well, this is an album that certainly lives up to – and even exceeds expectations – and that takes some doing based on the previous output of the sisters in their various guises.
It’s not restricted by genre, yet at the same time it holds together beautifully with its mature and melodic arrangements and fantastic pop sensibility.
The Mastersons, Bonnie Whitmore and now The Whitmore Sisters themselves are touring in the UK soon (fingers crossed) and it promises, on the basis of this album and the back catalogue of all those performing to be very special indeed.
Review by Nick Barber
Released January 21st 2022
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY