The Chapin Sisters’ latest album, Today’s Not Yesterday is deeply grounded in the country rock of the past. The title suggests the artists live in the present. They know what time it is. But Abigail and Lily Chapin wear their musical influences on their sleeves: the sounds of Laurel Canyon, the folk-country of the Byrds, Joan Baez, Neil Young and Melanie, and is that Seals and Crofts I hear? No matter if it’s intentional or just emerged from the zeitgeist of another era, the tight vocal harmonies and the multi-layered strata of acoustic stringed instruments echo back almost as much as they move forward.
The material purposely maintains a plain aura. There are no big vocal or instrumental solos. The blending of sounds is more important that their independent existences. Consider songs such as “Trees Fall Around” and “The World is All”. Nothing seems to happen. The pace moves sluggishly. But then, the players begin to mesh with each other. The music becomes brighter. What once sounded slow becomes an invitation to relax. The sisters create a reflective atmosphere as the words turn into just syllables. The syllables become mantras. The song ends where we began, except we have calmed down.
Perhaps that is why the quintessential song here is appropriately called “Waiting”. It functions as performance and performance art by giving the aural description of what it feels like as well as making the listener stop and linger. This is not always a positive description, but on the whole the pleasurable moments of anticipation and delay far exceed the other components. On “There Will Be a Time For Us” Abigail and Lily croon to military cadence on the song of that name. The time is not now, but it will be worth the wait.
The sisters sing mostly serious songs about relationships, children, and love, but they also have fun tunes. “I’m chasing the rain / because I love umbrellas / I stare at the sun because / my favorite color’s yellow”, they croon over a lilting guitar melody and gentle drumming. The silliness is part of the point. The narrator loves being absurd and offers no rhyme or reason. She is what she is. The frisson between an act which does its best not to stand out as individuals and a composition that celebrates one’s uniqueness creates a tangible tension. We all are different. That makes us the same.
The record ends with the anthemic “We Will Not Stop Singing” that evokes old union hymns, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and a time of political activism. Abigail and Lily refuse to shut up until all the whole world sings together in peace. Good luck with that, but one cannot help but agree with the sentiment. It’s a lovely song of protest; inspirational in its execution. We live in a time of many wars across the globe, an enormous refugee crisis, and a meanness on the part of many people to other human beings. Recognizing ourselves in others and our shared humanity seems like a dated concept from another time. That was yesterday. This is today.
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