The title of Sisters and Brothers, the third album from Nashville band The Vespers, sums up the composition of the group – two sisters and two brothers – as well as the album’s most overriding theme, the strength of human connections. The quartet write and record anthemic Americana songs that thump and shine in equal measure, a cinematic sound that on this album approaches that of Delta Rae, but stays rootsier.
Smooth, big vocal harmonies from Callie and Phoebe Cryar buff up the first two songs, “Break the Cycle” and “We Win.” The first starts with a slow intro that gradually speeds up, a brave choice to start, and the second can’t help bringing to mind Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” The theme is a little heavy-handed, but the glorious sound makes it a winner nonetheless.
Mud seeps in on the elemental, banjo-heavy “New Kids,” one of the album’s best tracks, and on the slow, insistent, despairing “Out West” where a delicate mandolin merges with crunching guitars and pounding piano as the lead vocals slide from a roar to a whisper. “Not Enough,” too, boasts grunge-like volume contrasts as it goes negative with lyrics of frustration.
The title track returns to a densely but tastefully orchestrated pop sound to convey the album’s central message, “Gotta take care of each other,” “Signs” employs a vivacious dance beat as it nods back to the New Wave era, and “You Leave Me” is fun little nugget with an early-R&B/dance beat.
The softer songs include the lullaby-like “The Curtain,” which masks a hint of menace under a beautiful melody and softly finger-picked guitar – I can’t make out all the lyrics, but something sad and not-so-sweet seems to be going on. The lovely “Please” is a desperate but hopeful plea for help from a brother, or brother-in-spirit. It risesto a big creamy finish that floats on a keyboard/synth track that sounds almost like a mellotron. And the gentle “Cynical Soul” uses airy vocals and gentle banjo-picking to support biting lyrics: “Blah blah blah blah, we’re always talking/God help us all to do a little more walking.”
The Vespers take their own advice and walk a wide terrain of styles, but glued together by the country-pop vocals the variety isn’t startling; instead, it keeps things interesting and surprising through the 12 songs. The album closes with its most beautiful song, “Thirst No More.” “How sweet the merciful song you sing/Wave after wave washing over me…Your love is like an ocean, bottomless.” Imagery of baptism and being saved might suggest a gospel heritage, but what I read here is a depiction of an entirely human purity, wishful thinking, but wishful in the way the best art can be.