SHELWe've had The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – now we have four girls who play fiery music about When the Dragon Came Down.....

When the Dragon Came Down
Artist: SHEL
5 tracks / 20:11

They don't make sister acts like they used to. I mean, when you used to say 'sister act' you'd automatically think about Whoopie Goldberg dressed as a nun, or (if you're of a certain age) some vocal group from the fifties. Of course there are plenty of groups that have siblings within the line-up, but how often do you find a musical unit made up of four sisters who write and perform their own music? Oh – and that sound good? Hmmmm. The list just got shorter...

Meet SHEL: Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza Holbrook. Yes, the first letter of each name spells 'SHEL," and - to borrow a pun from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - they're one shel of a good band! When the Dragon Came Down is a refreshingly thoughtful, musically mature collection of five self-written songs. At only twenty-plus minutes, it's a very satisfying listen - efficiently well-paced, thoroughly engaging, and without a wasted moment.

The producer credits are shared by SHEL and six-time Grammy Award winner, Brent Maher, and the music is presented free of trendy studio effects – not that any would be needed, since the musical integrity of this group needs no technical tricks.

As is often the case when siblings sing together, the vocals of Sara, Hana and Eva compliment each other as solo counterparts as well as harmonically. Always on pitch (with no auto-tuning that I can hear – thankfully), the vocals are vulnerable but firmly under control, delicate but sure – with no vocal histrionics. One might occasionally hear echos of Eisley (another sibling group) on songs like "Ruby Slippers," or of Sixpence None the Richer's Leigh Nash, on "The Man Who Was the Circus."

Classically trained instrumentalists, SHEL offers a unique blend of folk, classical, Celtic, and a bit of jazz - all with subtle 'indie' influence, but with none of the self-obsession of the indie scene. With Sarah on violin and vocals, Hannah on piano, keyboards, and vocals, Eva on mandolin, cello, and lead vocals, and Liza on drums, percussion, and djembe, SHEL produces a sound that's sophisticated yet earthy – a sound that will appeal to fans of Bruce Cockburn, for instance. The music is melodic and complex, but not so complex as to distract from the overall spell of these intriguing songs. The soundscape is rich and warm and allows a good aural access to treats like the occasional doubling of cello or bass with guitar lines. For those familiar with the 'chamber pop' of the Annie Moses Band, imagine a more intimate sound – more shadows, less light.

When the Dragon Came Down is an impressive introduction to SHEL, a group that simply does everything right - from the the packaging (Sarah and Liza worked on design and artwork), to the production, and to the actual performance of these wonderful songs. What it all comes down to is good songs performed by a talented group of musician/singers that happen to be sisters.

And just for the record – the fact that they're easy on the eyes doesn't hurt, either.

So what's not to like?

-Bert Saraco