Love to Live
The Living Sisters (Vanguard, 2010)
Nearly eight years ago in a cramped, dimly lit room illuminated by a few strings of white Christmas lights, I first became acquainted with the music of L.A.-based singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell. She was touring to promote her fifth album, Country for True Lovers.
The title of that album alone is a clue into what Mandell brings to the Living Sisters, a folksy-bluesy-jazzy trio she's formed along with the Bird and the Bee's Inara George and Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark. The three have been playing around Los Angeles for about five years, but Love to Live is their first album, and it proves the adage that good things come to those who wait.
While Stark and George are the clear vocal powerhouses in this girl group, Mandell's deeper, rounder vocals make her their harmonic anchor. She also brings certain levity, once commenting, "She with the biggest butt sings the lowest notes." Without her wry sense of humor, the group could be just another musical outfit with a vintage aesthetic.
There are a handful of "she-bop she-bops" sung with a straight face and "oohs" and "babys" aplenty (with even some "ooh babys"). The harmonies are certainly the crowd-pleasers on this record, but even the warm, honey-toned guitars deserve mention. They're a sweet accompaniment to the trio's sugary vocals.
Though their sound hearkens back to a time when an electric guitar was an indicator of modern music, most of the songs are original, exhibiting a knack for hooks paired with clever lyrics-the type of tunes that only songwriters as accomplished as Mandell, Stark, and George could compose. The women also pay homage to their foremothers, Nancy Wilson and Bessie Smith, with covers "(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am" and "Good Ole Wagon," respectively, that honor the originals without sacrificing their own style.
Since releasing Love to Live, the Living Sisters have received a lot of positive press, so let's hope it doesn't take five more years for them to release another album.
This article appeared in the August 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 8, page 43).