Devastatingly beautiful harmonies, exquisite instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics. The new mini-album from My Sister My Brother is a smart, sophisticated treasure
Release Date: 29th September 2023
Label: 333 Entertainment
Formats: Download, Streaming
Well – we’ve had ample advanced warning for this one. Of the seven tracks that constitute My Sister My Brother II, three – Cry Me a River, Another Life and More Than You Could Give – have already appeared as singles and, together, they almost (but not quite) prepared us for the lush flood of beautiful vocal harmonies, exquisite instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics that make My Siste My Brother II such a wonderfully satisfying listening experience.
By now, My Sister My Brother should need no introduction to At The Barrier’s visitors but, in case your attention has been elsewhere during the past four months, I’ll recap. My Sister My Brother is the duo formed by Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and producer Garrison Starr and singer/songwriter Sean McConnell. Both Garrison and Sean have established their reputations as solo performers, each famed for the quality of their songwriting and their vocal skills and, in the best traditions of teamworking, when they get together as a duo, their exquisite harmony vocals raise the bar to unimaginable levels.
As soon as the pair met – it was at a ‘songwriting retreat’ – they each realized that, together, they could create a special kind of magic. The result of that first meeting was the duo’s first co-composition, Nothing Without You, and that song was soon followed by their debut, eponymous, My Sister My Brother EP. Garrison takes up the story of the pair’s meeting: “Sometimes you just immediately trust somebody – you’re at ease from the beginning. You know they’ve got your back. It feels easy. I immediately felt that way with Sean.” And that sense of ease was mutual, as Sean readily confirms: “When we started writing and especially when we started singing together, it was like, ‘Wow. This is not normal. This feels very natural.’ It feels like singing with a sibling that you’ve sung with for a long time. Very quickly, it became a special collaboration.”
Sadly, COVID and lockdown intervened shortly after that first product hit the streets but, as soon as they were able to do so, Garrison and Sean put their collective heads back together, locked themselves in Sean’s Silent Desert Studio in Nolensville, Tennessee, for a week, and emerged with this collection of seven new songs.
And, once again, the sheer quality of what has been produced is evident – not least to those who created these wonderful songs – and the special magic that seems to emerge every time Garrison and Sean get together was at work once again during those sessions. Garrison explains: “Not everybody in every writing session is always trying to make the best, most authentic thing. A lot of people are chasing another dragon. When you find the people who are trying – who inspire you – you have to hang onto it. It makes you better. It keeps you honest.” Hopefully this music makes people feel less alone – brings them a little hope in a time they might need it.”
And, as I may have already remarked, the process has worked a treat. My Sister My Brother II is a peerless collection of beautifully crafted, exquisitely executed songs. Seven pieces of pure treasure.
The lead single, Cry Me a River, that gets My Sister My Brother II underway. Piano and shimmering strings provide the accompaniment to the album’s first dose of those stunning vocal harmonies. It’s a BIG ballad, smart and sophisticated and, whilst a lyric sheet is available, it isn’t really needed, such is the crystal clarity of the vocals.
I’ve already had cause within these pages to describe Another Life, the album’s second single, as ‘fresh and bright,’ and that’s a phrase I’m inclined to stick with. The song is a freewheeling rocker, reminiscent of the Doobies as they rock down the highway. Garrison and Sean share the lead vocal duties, before their voices merge deliciously for the “You make it easy babe” chorus. The classic Americana feel of the self-referencing My Sister My Brother is enhanced by some tasty howls of harmonica; Sean’s voice is particularly soulful as he sings “My sister, Oh my sister,” and, once again, the vocal harmonizing is exemplary. It’s another excellent song, with echoes of Eagles’ Doolin-Dalton lurking just below the surface.
Those harmonies get even better for Almost There, a full-force ballad with an echo-y accompaniment that provides a perfect match for the pleading vocals, and that standard is maintained for the stunning More Than You Could Give, the third of the album’s singles. It’s a sad song, with lyrics that recall the agonies of childhood rejection, and lines like “I told myself that you did the best you could, but now I don’t think that you did” ull no punches whatsoever. Acoustic guitar and piano blend magnificently with some of the best harmony vocals you’ll ever hear to complete the glorious picture.
Garrison takes the lead vocal for the chunky rocker, Shelter, and her delivery is as solid as the message in the reassuring lyrics, before this short collection is brought to its close with Maybe There Are Angels, yet another perfectly crafted song. It’s a gentle conclusion to an excellent album, with fingerpicked acoustic guitar, piano and some subtle flurries of organ providing the foundation for a gritty Sean vocal and one final dose of those special harmonies. The lyrics provoke a little thought, too, as they express the realization that, rather than being the winged visitors of legend, angels just might be here, walking amongst us, as lyrics like “I think I’ve figured out that faith and doubt are the same from different angles” and “Maybe they’re people, maybe they don’t have wings” so eloquently express.
My Sister My Brother have made an excellent mini-album. More of the same please!
Listen to More Than You Could Give – the album’s third single and a true album highlight – here: