The Whitmore Sisters “Ghost Stories”

Red House Records, 2022

Sisters Bonnie and Eleanor Whitmore set aside their individual projects to join together for a highly impressive first outing as a duo.

Bonnie and Eleanor Whitmore have both established themselves as accomplished figures within the pantheon of americana music. Bonnie has made four well-received albums under her own name, as well as working with Hayes Carll, John Moreland and Jimmie Dale Gilmore amongst many others, whilst Eleanor has made four equally well-regarded albums with husband Chris under The Mastersons name and has long served as a Duke in Steve Earle’s touring band. It seems quite natural therefore that they should team up to make an album together. The resulting ‘Ghost Stories’ collection is a beautifully crafted and performed set of songs which explore themes that both celebrate life and reflect, often from a personal perspective, on broken relationships and the ultimate loss and grief of death.

Recorded last year at Chris Masterson’s Los Angeles studio, ‘Ghost Stories’ is made up of nine original songs, seven co-writes and two Bonnie compositions, plus two covers of songs written by Paul McCartney and the sisters’ good friend Aaron Lee Tasjan.

The opening track ‘Learn to Fly’ draws on the fact that both women were taught to fly by their father who was a US Navy pilot. The song uses those experiences as a metaphor for life itself “You get knocked around/Then you’re coming back down/Recovery always takes time/But I’m telling you, I know it will bruise/When you bounce up too high”. The sisters’ close harmonies are complimented by the lush sound of a mellotron and the light touch of Chris Masterson’s twangy guitar. Masterson’s production throughout the album is equally effective in presenting the quality of the songs in a sympathetic and supportive way.

The theme of loss permeates the album. “The Ballad of Sissy and Porter” a song about musician and Bonnie’s former boyfriend Chris Porter, who was killed in an accident on tour; “Greek Tragedy” which laments the passing of Justin Townes Earle, also a former partner of Bonnie, “Everyone sees/Another Greek tragedy/Carry on in our memories/Goodbye, sweet dreams” and “Friends We Leave Behind” a bittersweet reflection on mortality “Everybody dies/Suffering around/Love can pull you through/And fear can take you down”. The title track ‘Ghost Stories’ was originally inspired by the death of Elijah McClean, a young unarmed black man, at the hands of three police officers in Colorado. However, the sisters decided to broaden the parameters of the song to honour all people of colour unnecessarily killed by the police “We need to tend to our gardens/Rooting out what is rotten/Sowing the seeds/Of what we ought to be”.

Elsewhere, the sibling harmonies lend themselves well to a cover of the Paul McCartney written Everly Brothers song ‘On the Wings of a Nightingale’, whilst Aaron Lee Tasjan’s ‘Big Heart Sick Mind’ injects an upbeat feel to proceedings musically, if not lyrically. Other originals in this set of songs tackle the theme of lost love and broken relationships. You can feel the hurt in “Superficial World of Love’ ‘Hurtin’ for a Letdown’ and ‘By Design’ as each story unfolds.

There is not a weak moment on this splendid album. Cathartic maybe, but never maudlin or self-indulgent, ‘Ghost Stories’ is an album that deals with, often difficult, experiences of life whilst seeking to also draw strength from them.


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8/10
8/10

About Clint West 245 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,

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