Album Review – The Whitmore Sisters – “Ghost Stories”

Blood harmonies and sister singers set the very foundation for American roots music, and country music specifically. There’s just something so elemental to the intimacy of this sound that it awakens dormant emotions untouchable by other sonic instruments and musical practices. It is this magic that the singing sisters of Bonnie and Eleanor Whitmore look to tap into with their first enterprise as a duo titled Ghost Stories, and thankfully for our souls, they dutifully succeed.

The Austin-based Bonnie Whitmore is a solo artist with four acclaimed records under her belt. Sister Eleanor and her curly red hair are commonly seen in Steve Earle’s backing band, or in the duo The Mastersons with her husband Chris. It seemed on the borderline of scandalous that the two the had never made a proper studio record together before. But pandemic downtime and putting past petty silliness aside has made a collaboration possible, now that the two women have established careers autonomously.

Classic, primitive, and haunting in moments like a sepia-covered Carter Family record, but surprisingly diverse and even upbeat in others, the Whitmore Sisters effortlessly reignite all those moments singing together from an early age, and find inspiration for some intrepid original songs from their shared history.

The album opens with the ethereal “Learning To Fly,” inspired by their childhood of being daughters of a Navy carrier pilot, who taught Bonnie and Eleanor aviation as they were growing up. The song takes you on one of those soaring journeys that the best of singing sisters can. It’s chased by an unexpected Cajun country tune called “The Ballad of Sissy and Porter,” inspired by a songwriter named Chris Porter who passed away in 2016. With Eleanor playing fiddle, and Dirk Powell on the squeeze box, it adds a dash of spice to this album.

“Friends We Leave Behind” is where Ghost Stories really lives up to its name, leaving the audience in one of those moods that’s spine tingling and unsettling, though strangely warm in how it delivers you to a place apart for the present with the exquisite writing and dark wisdom. It’s songs like this that can only be properly delivered through the timeless harmonies of kin sisters.

Though you would consider Ghost Stories more of an Americana album overall, there are certainly a few country tracks, including the well-written “Hurtin’ for a Letdown,” which will speak to all those gluttons for punishment out there that whether by accident or design, end up nursing broken hearts more often than not. Later “Ricky” gives the record a bouncy and upbeat country rock moment. And “Big Heart Sick Mind” may have more of an indie rock approach, but the chorus and those darn sister harmonies ground it in those good ol’ down home vibes all the same.

This may be one of those albums you cherry pick your favorite songs from instead of listening on through. The omnivorous nature of the selections means there’s something for everyone, but not everything may appeal to everybody, especially later in the track list. But without a doubt, those alert music aficionados out there who’ve seen these two performing separately and wondered when they would unite in song will certainly be happy with these results, and will hope there’s more where this came from.

8/10

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