The Whitmore Sisters
Photo: Courtesy of Red House Records

The Whitmore Sisters Get Together and Sing ‘Ghost Stories’

Our lives are full of Ghost Stories, and the Whitmore Sisters’ “blood harmonies” are the spirits that express the deep connections we share with each other.

Ghost Stories
The Whitmore Sisters
Red House
21 January 2022

The Whitmore Sisters established their separate musical identities long ago. Bonnie has released four solo albums to critical acclaim and has played with such notables as Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Eleanor has one solo record and has performed with Tanya Tucker, Kelly Willis, and Steve Earle. She is most famous as half of the Mastersons (a duo with her husband, Chris).

Bonnie and Eleanor played together when young as part of their family band. Both of their parents are musicians. But the two sisters have maintained their individual careers. The recent pandemic stopped them from touring and provided them with the time and opportunity to work together. The results are outstanding. As its title suggests, Ghost Stories is a hauntingly beautiful record about life after death—the real physical one as well as the end of friendships and love.

The sisters wrote nine out of the 11 tracks, with both women providing vocals and Eleanor on violin and Bonnie on bass. Chris Masterson takes on the guitar parts (and produced the record), and Jamie Douglass plays drums and percussion. However, the sister’s voices capture most of the attention. They share what Bonnie called in a recent interview “blood harmonies”, that magic sweet spot that occurs when siblings sing together and create a third voice that’s superior to the individual contributions. It’s a staple of classic country music. Think of the Everly Brothers as prime examples.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise that one of the two covers is an Everly Brothers’ song, “On the Wings of a Nightingale” (originally written for the boys by Paul McCartney). While the Brothers combined their dulcet tones to show the beauty of love, the Sisters’ take reveals how each individual singer has been impacted by the lofty emotion (“Oh, I can feel something happening”). Their voices don’t blend as much as retain their own identity, although they are singing the same words simultaneously.

The other cover, Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Big Heart Sick Mind” takes on a similar tack. Although the sisters sing the lyrics simultaneously, the vocals suggest the dual personalities of the same individual; one with the “big heart” the other with the “sick mind”. That captures the schizophrenia of being in love (one with “a terrible curse”) that is one part half a couple and the other one’s discrete self.    

The self-penned material shows other sides of the sisters and utilizes different vocal tactics. The operatic “Superficial World of Love” demonstrates Eleanor’s Roy Orbison-like ability to glide from low to high notes without taking a breath. Bonnie sings behind her to establish a counter-narrative about whether love is real. The Cajun stomp “The Ballad of Sissy & Porter” puts Eleanor’s fiddle in the forefront as the two sisters take turns telling the narrative about two people wildly in love with life and each other. Dirk Powell’s accordion contribution also keeps the dance beat front and center. The dark “Greek Tragedy” allows the sisters to wallow in dreams as they sing as one about living in memories. The best is not yet to be but exists somewhere in the past.

These tracks fit in with the album’s central theme, as divulged in the title song. Our lives are full of “Ghost Stories”: the world that might have been, the lovers one might have had, the acquaintances that may have become pals form the nexus of beautifully sad songs such as “Hurtin’ For a Letdown”, “By Design”, “Friends We Leave behind”, and others. The Whitmore Sisters’ “blood harmonies” are the spirits that express the deep connections we share with each other.

RATING 8 / 10