SHELA classy quartet of sisters from Colorado is one part classical, one part chamber-pop, one part folk and one part Celtic. Add a liberal dash of smart lyrics and sibling harmonies and you've got SHEL.


Artist: SHEL
13 tracks / 37:40

SHEL is Sarah (violin and vocals), Hannah (keyboards and vocals), Eva (mandolin, lead vocals), and Liza (drums, percussion, djembe) – put the first letters of the Holbrook sisters names together and you've got the name of the group, as well as the name of their full-length debut. If you're expecting light pop songs or angst-ridden dance anthems, or... let's put it this way: you really won't know what to expect from these talented siblings until you hear them, because SHEL is more about creating a unique musical statement than targeting a demographic.

With an acoustic soundscape of remarkable depth and texture, the production (Brent Maher and SHEL) is clean and intimate sounding, refreshingly free of studio trickery. The classically-trained musicians create a delectable balance between sophistication and earthiness, precision and soul, seriousness and playfulness. Stylistically, SHEL manages to go from the accessible, quirky pop sounds of “Freckles” and “The Wise Old Owl,” to the Appalachian echoes of “Stained,” to the Celtic feel of “Lost at Sea”; to “Paint My Life,” with its lushly romantic and unique arrangement; the introspective and melodic “Like Minded Fool”; the stunning violin and mandolin instrumental, “Tuscany” ...and they do it all the while maintaining a unified sound and musical identity. All of these musical textures even extend to the only cover song on the project, as the ladies from Colorado make Led Zeppelin's “The Battle of Evermore” their own!

Not yet out of their twenties, the Holbrook sisters manage to write lyrics with depth and insight far beyond the typical contemporary pop song.

You're a man with a broken soul,
You're a king who rules alone,
You're a cripple without a home,
You're a bird struck by a stone,
Better cut my tongue out now,
Before I speak the truth too loud,
Before the hope we've lost is found,
Before the world is wakened by this sound....”

The lyrics are often poetic, with just the right amount of imagery to tantalize the imagination. There are also more direct messages about love, insecurity, and life:

And my home I've left far behind me /
Giving up hope that love might come and find me / Still a wild blue ocean spread out between us, It may be that our ship sinks before the sun has seen us...” - “Lost at Sea.”

Of course, there's the pure fancy of “The Latest and Greatest Blueberry Rubber band,” where the girls have some vocalese fun and sing lyrics like,:

Magic flies by like a crimson butterfly, flickers of a memory in the twinkle of an eye.
Jellybeans that make you hop high above the silver moon, Find your way back down to earth, just ride a red balloon. ...

Eva's vocals are subtle and intimate, recorded very up-front in the mix The harmonies are always spot-on and interesting, sounding as tight and integrated as sibling vocals often can be. There's plenty of vocal skill on display here, but no American Idol style histrionics, thankfully.

It would be hard not to mention groups like Eisley and The Annie Moses Band when talking about the music of SHEL. Both of those bands are made up of siblings, and SHEL leans toward some of the artsy, hand-made quality of the early work of Eisley. Of course, the classical / folk / jazz elements of their music has something in common with The Annie Moses Band, but SHEL is earthier and more visceral.

SHEL's self-titled full length debut is smart, sensitive music with the hand-prints of the artist(s) all over it, from recording to packaging. This is an exciting introduction to the unique sounds of a group that holds the promise of great things yet to come.

Bert Saraco

Related: SHEL in concert -

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