Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Love To Live - The Living Sisters

Love To Live
The Living Sisters
Vanguard 78042

This Silver Lake supergroup brings together eclectic singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell, sophisticated pop chanteuse Inara George of the Bird and the Bee, and the unstoppable force of nature that is Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond.  When I saw them a few weeks ago at Disney Hall they had added a fourth member Alex Lilly, but when this record was recorded they were just a trio.  I bought this album at that concert.  I already had the CD but I was so enraptured by the concert experience that I succumbed to the vinyl allure.  I'm glad I did, because this is a record I really treasure.  Considering what great singers these women are individually, you can imagine how heavenly they sound singing together.  There is a remarkable consistency of style and tone on this album considering how many different genres of music the group embraces.  My favorite song is Mandell's "How Are You Doing?" which is pure pop pleasure with the singers taking turns singing leads and offering up some gorgeous harmonies.  Mandell also provides the country-flavored "Ferris Wheel" which is a style she has explored in her solo work.  George's sole songwriting contribution is "Blue" which is a tasty slice of doo-wop as the Sisters channel the Fleetwoods and the Flamingos.  Stark takes the podium to deliver the folky "Cradle" which argues against letting your baby cry.  I couldn't agree more, our pediatrician told us to let our baby cry and it made me miserable for the short period we tried it.  Listen to this woman's advice.  This is followed by a cover of Bessie Smith's "Good Ole Wagon" which I think is the only dubious cut on the album.  The Sisters take a glossy sophisticated approach on this song that I think was better served with the grit and raunchiness that Bessie Smith brought to it.  Side Two kicks off with another pop song from Mandell, "Hold Back" followed by another folk song from Stark, "This Mountain Has Skies" which has some of the prettiest singing on the record.  Mandell's fourth and final song is the fun and funny "Double Knots."  It makes me smile every time I hear it.  A cover of Nancy Wilson's 60s hit "(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am" comes next.  Wilson's original was basically easy-listening pop with a tinge of rhythm and blues, but the Sisters' version is more of a doo-wop/country hybrid and I like it a lot better.  All three women sing lead on the closing number, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down," a dreamy ballad by Becky Stark.  The singing on this number is just dazzling, a great way to finish the album.  This is an astonishingly beautiful record, I don't think I've heard such brilliant ensemble singing since Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris got together for the "Trio" records.  Highly recommended to anyone interested in the possibilities of ensemble vocals in pop music.

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