First piece of advice to SHEL: Ditch the hats.
The four members of the band of sisters from Fort Collins, Colo., all don ostentatious top hats on the cover of their debut “SHEL,” affecting a failed shabby-chic look (or is that a failed haute couture look?) that makes for a silly distraction.
Yet while they may be fashion roadkill, these women have it together as musicians.
SHEL takes its name from the first letter of the first name of each Holbrook sister: Sarah (violin, vocals), Hannah (piano, keyboards, vocals), Eva (lead vocals, mandolin) and Liza (drums, percussion). That may be a trite technique for naming a band, but the Holbrooks prove to be imaginative in the eccentric chamber-pop arrangements of “SHEL.”
Stellar opening track “Paint My Life” introduces the act’s artful mix of violin-mandolin-piano and sweet vocal harmonies (despite the abstract pain of such lines as the “Bohemian Rhapsody” nod, “Is this my real life or some wounded fool’s fantasy?”) The subsequent “Like Minded Fool” offers a more disaffected tone in its gossamer strains (“I’m sure you never meant to be so cruel,” Eva sings).
And so the sugared whimsy continues, from the fanciful chorus of “The Wise Old Owl” to the uplifting Americana pop of “On My Way” to the thumping endearment of “Freckles.”
It’s tempting to label SHEL a gentle, albeit blander, counterpart to the cello-punk Rasputina, but in truth the Holbrooks sound more like the artistic descendants of Jane Siberry, blending classical training, playful theatrics, philosophy and melody into fetchingly offbeat packages.
Not everything works — certainly not the dull remake of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” and also not the meandering lullaby “Vinyl Memories” or a “Lost at Sea” that fulfills the prophesy of its title.
However, these women are young, 18-24 years old, with ample time and obvious creativity to build on their talents.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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