Original Brothers and Sisters of Love
"They try desperately to sound pretty despite the difficulty of beauty in a bar." This is my husband's take on the Original Brothers and Sisters of Love. They do seem like good-natured people who like their mother's cooking and might rather be fishing than playing lovely music in a smoky room. Onstage, they look huggable in scruffy cotton clothes and bed-rumpled hair. And who wouldn't offer warm encouragement to two brothers - Timothy and Jamie Monger - making music together as bandmates? But the difficulty of their mission leaves the members of this folk-rock-Celtic band lacking in something more visceral, less controlled. Live and on their two CDs, The Legende of Jeb Minor and H.O.M.E.S. Volume One, there's a holding back, as if they're trying not to get excited. Because this band seems capable of taking us to that next level of musical abandon, it leaves us unsatisfied. And that's just too bad for a band that's so good.
All these musicians are talented, usually on several different instruments. They take full advantage of the complexity made possible by a six-person band, creating tightly woven, textured sounds with multiple guitars, bass, drums, accordion, and violin (plus cello, trumpet, piano, and even bassoon on occasion). The violin in particular, played by Liz Auchinvole, gives them a musical feel similar to Donna the Buffalo's. Drawing from both sea chanteys and Donovan-style psychedelia, the music is alternately haunting, sweet, and slightly weird. Like the wind
and water that inspire much of their lyrics, their songs swirl and float over a solid acoustic foundation. Lead vocals - alternating among the brothers and guitarist Greg McIntosh - are sweet and melodic, and all of the band members sing (including drummer Fido Kennington and bassist Scott McClintock), allowing for impressively dense chords at key moments.
This is clearly an intelligent group. The CDs are packaged like concept pieces, and the lyrics are poetic and image laden: "She was long like a Union
rifle / She was cold like a motel Bible," or "Down in the dirt where the suits grow weeds / Flowers won't grow and your bones don't need no skin." I'm especially partial to "Vintage Schwinn Enthusiast" - "Single speed, that's all you really need" - which taps into my own feelings about my blue 1969 Slik Chik with handlebar streamers. "Beautiful Night" is nothing short of amazing at its climax, with jazz trumpet and bottle rockets. The quiet simplicity of the title track, with only the Monger brothers playing acoustic guitar and Tim singing, suggests the niche of accomplishment they could have found in traditional folk.
Intellectual art is painfully rare in the bar band scene. The Original Brothers and Sisters of Love (great name for a band) make you feel as if you can learn something from them. But too much thinking can get in the way of deep feeling. They clearly still have room to grow.
The Original Brothers and Sisters of Love are at Leopold Bros. on Wednesday, April 16.
[Originally published in April, 2003.]