The word to remember when thinking about folk/rock duo, The Chapin Sisters, and their latest CD, Two, is harmony. Sisters Lily and Abigail have a unique vocal blend that ranges from the lyrical and haunting to a soft blues set against a dynamic rock beat with a lot of stops in between. Since they write their own songs, it is no accident that their music suits their voices to perfection. These are singer/song writers who know their strengths and know how to use them.
Listen to the ethereal harmonies rising over the melodic keyboard lines in “Paradise,” an exercise in hyperbole that finds love superior to heaven. “Paradise,” the lyric avows, “is not as nice as you.” Flying to the moon, pouring an ocean—nothing is as nice as love. “Roses in Winter” doesn’t quite demand heaven from a love affair, but the roses in winter it does look for seem just as far out of reach. In the end, it seems the best you can ask for is to be let down easily. “Birds in My Garden” evokes the sadness of love gone bad against an ominous pulsating beat, as it demands that it’s really time for a change. Then it lightens the melody when it posits better possibilities, a time when you can “write a song where nothing goes wrong,/and the birds in my garden will sing along.” “Sweet Light” opens the CD with a hymn like quality that suggests the mystical qualities of the light that follows us as we “wander home,/and where ere we roam.”
Often the sweetness of their harmonies works in ironic contrast to what would appear to be a rather bleak view of life and love. “I Can Feel” asks: “Why can’t I make you want me?” “Digging a Hole” uses elements of the round combined with a Native American drum beat to aurally represent a lifetime of swimming upstream, a life that keeps you digging a deeper and deeper hole. The discordant crescendo at its end is as much a foreshadowing of the future as it is a climax. There is a plaintive country love lament like “Palm Tree” and a quasi satiric comment on the genre in “Boo Hoo,” with its teary onomatopoeic chorus. There is an almost suicidal lyric set to a quirky syncopated melody in “Left All Alone.” Despite their sweet vocals, The Chapin Sisters are not writing cotton candy pop music. These are songs where beneath the surface of sweetness there is the recognition that love is not always the answer and trouble is the lot of us all, even if we’ve “got no time for trouble,” as “Trouble,” the last and one of the finest songs on the CD exclaims.
Two is a relatively short collection, ten songs running something more than half an hour, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. These are the kinds of songs that grow on you, the more you listen, the better you like them, the more you listen the more they mean. Check out, for example, The Other Chad’s review of the album.
The Chapin Sisters have been on tour opening for She and Him. Two gives you that amazing sound, and it does it without the hippy dresses (not that there’s anything wrong with that).