Loretta and Julie Lucas have been making music together since forever — literally. They're twin sisters with a shared love of musical expression, and the Sisters Lucas appear to have the sort of telepathic bond that can make jams truly sing. The two have made a name for themselves around town in the last few years as angelic-harmonic voices spinning bittersweet songs of love and loss and all in between. They've often worked in a country-informed vein as Loretta & the Larkspurs, but recently they've gotten some momentum performing simply as the Sisters Lucas with the help of bassist (and sitarist) Jamiel Dado and drummer Richard Wohlfeil. And now comes the release of their first 7-inch on the actively awesome Bellyache label.
It's super when a band shakes things up with its debut recording — and that's exactly what Julie and Loretta have done here. "To What and What Of" and its nominal B-side "Habit" find the sisters in uncommon territory instrumentally — even if the subject matter verily hums with their articulate ambivalence toward human relationships.
"To What and What Of" comes on like candy floss and cobwebs, a sort of Tropicalia-inflected take on what Kurt Weill might have cooked up with the Cardigans. "Habit" is a bona fide beguiling folk-rocker chock-full of momentum, sugar 'n' vinegar and hooks latching onto the chorus inviting the listener to just keep his head above water. Both songs are crafted around the rootsy and ethereal sound of the autoharp — an instrument heretofore unheard in the Sisters Lucas repertoire.
"The songs weren't written specifically for these instruments, but rather with these instruments," Loretta explains. "Many times in our songwriting, the music happens first, lyrics develop. The genesis of these songs was our collaboration in songwriting and the purchase of the autoharp. One Saturday afternoon, out thrifting at a pawnshop, I thought that the one thing I wanted to find was an autoharp, and there it was. A muse. Both songs quickly followed."
Indeed, whether it's the sense of optimistic pragmatism that comes through in the lyrics or, indeed, the instrumentation, the Sisters Lucas seem to have concocted and packaged tunes that (gasp!) actually complement each other on a 45. As written by the ladies and recorded by producer Chris Koltay at his Corktown High Bias studios, the songs are crafted to talk to each other — a sort of virtual conversation played out on flip sides of vinyl.
"We wouldn't say that these songs talk to each other; they bicker," says Loretta. "No, they don't. Yes, they do! Ha!"
There's a real musical connection, though: "It felt right to pair these two together," she says. "They are both conscious of our perilous human existence; begging for redemption and hope, while questioning everything."
So there you have it. The initial salvo from one of Detroit's most intriguing musical combos takes an immediate left-hand turn from their reputation, but a direct line into the heart of humanity. Sounds about right for this songwriting duo and their co-conspirators.
The CD release party is Saturday, Dec. 27, at the Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668. With Aran Ruth and the Gardens.
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