The Mastersons and The Whitmore Sisters
March 24 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm$22.50
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THE MASTERSONS No Time for Love Songs
The Mastersons are singer-songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore. When they’re not touring the world as valued longtime members of Steve Earle’s band the Dukes, the musical and marital twosome make inspired albums of their own emotionally vivid, deeply humanistic songs. The duo’s fourth set of original compositions is the appropriately titled No Time for Love Songs.
The Mastersons, who now call Los Angeles home after stints in Austin, Brooklyn and Terlingua, Texas; recorded No Time for Love Songs at L.A.’s legendary Sunset Sound Recorders with Shooter Jennings; the album was engineered and mixed by five-time Grammy Award-winning engineer, Ryan Freeland. Shooter had recruited The Mastersons to play on his albums Family Man (2012) and The Other Life (2013), and they’d recently reunited to work on Tanya Tucker’s acclaimed comeback album While I’m Livin’, which Jennings co-produced with Brandi Carlile.
“I’ve known Chris and Eleanor since about 2010, and they’re unbelievable musicians and lifetime friends,” states longtime admirer Jennings. “They were perfect for Tanya’s record, and right after that, they asked me to produce No Time for Love Songs. Their take on music and singing and instrumentation is so original, and I knew that I’d be getting something great out of the experience, just by being there. They both bring so much to the table as musicians, and they sing so beautifully together, and they write these intricate, beautiful songs. I just love working with them.”
“We were reminded of what a great musician and collaborator he was,” Eleanor notes. “After recording with Shooter at Sunset Sound on Tanya’s album, we decided that that’s exactly where we needed to make this record.”
“I do think geography comes into play when making records, and I think this record does have a Southern California feel to it,” Chris adds. “I don’t know if that’s because we move a little slower than when we lived on the east coast, or if it’s just where we are in our lives. It also doesn’t hurt to live in a city where so many talented people live. We have an amazing community of friends and collaborators that helped shape this album.”
Those collaborators include Eleanor’s sister Bonnie Whitmore, a notable songwriter and recording artist in her own right, who sang and played bass on the No Time for Love Songs sessions, with bassist/keyboardist Tyler Chester (Andrew Bird, Sara Watkins, Madison Cunningham) and drummer Mark Stepro (Butch Walker, Ben Kweller, Jakob Dylan) rounding out the studio band. Longtime friend Aaron Lee Tasjan added background vocals on two songs.
“I think on our fourth record we’re pretty comfortable with who we are, and we tend to not sweat the little things so much,” observes Chris, adding, “We loved working with Shooter and the band. Basically we’d turn up to the studio, huddle around the piano and show everyone a song, then we’d track it. The whole process moved pretty quickly, resulting in a completed album in about three weeks. The quick turnaround was a bit stressful, but overall I think it makes for an honest documentation of these songs and a snapshot of a moment in time.”
No Time for Love Songs explores the emotional challenges of a morally compromised era, and reflects the experiences that the pair has accumulated in their travels. Those experiences helped to inspire the big-hearted songcraft of such compelling new tunes as “Spellbound,” “Circle the Sun,” “Eyes Open Wide,” “The Silver Line,” “There Is A Song to Sing” and the album’s poignant title track, which showcase the Mastersons’ organic harmonies, stirring melodies and insightful lyrics, which consistently offer clear-eyed optimism in the face of loss and discouragement.
“We’ve had a lot to write about over the past three years,” says Eleanor. “After the 2016 election, we felt a profound sense of loss, not only for our loved ones but for our country. We felt a shift away from decency and kindness, towards ugliness. We’ve traded truth, reason, justice, journalism, facts and revering the Constitution for utter chaos.”
“As our country becomes more divided,” Chris observes, “it makes it harder to connect with loved ones and friends that disagree. Fundamentally we all want the same things, but we’re pitted against each other by extreme rhetoric on both sides. If we can lead with kindness and empathy, there is a way out.”
Chris and Eleanor’s new songs are also partially influenced by the loss of several people close to them, including Chris’ father, who passed away just after the release of the Mastersons’ 2014 album Good Luck Charm; friend and fellow musician Chris Porter; Austin musician and producer George Reiff, who played extensively with the Mastersons and produced their 2017 album Transient Lullaby. The pair also recently lost Dukes bassist Kelley Looney, with whom they toured and recorded for the past decade.
“The changes in our country and in the world make us long for the people we’ve lost along the way,” adds Chris. “Only by cataloging and acknowledging loss and grief can we move forward with gratitude for what we have.”
With No Time for Love Songs, the duo also celebrates the tenth anniversary of their partnership and continue their creative journey, crafting a collection of songs that could easily serve as the soundtrack to our lives—or at least one version of it.
Prior to launching their recording partnership, Chris played with Son Volt, Jack Ingram and others, while Eleanor lent her talents to projects by Regina Spektor and Angus & Julia Stone. In 2008, Chris stepped out with his self-released solo album The Late Great Chris Masterson, while Eleanor made her solo move with the D.I.Y. effort Airplanes. In 2012, they released their first collaborative effort, Birds Fly South. That album won widespread critical acclaim, with Esquire designating the Mastersons as one of the “Bands You Need To Know Right Now.” Two years later, they followed up their debut with Good Luck Charm, which the Austin Chronicle praised for the duo’s “spunky wit and rare emotional maturity.” Good Luck Charm earned the Mastersons slots on NPR’s Mountain Stage and at high-profile festivals around the world. 2017’s Transient Lullaby explored new musical and lyrical territory, demonstrating how much the pair’s songwriting and performing skills had evolved with time, travel and experience.
Ghosts are always with us, waiting for the right moment, or reason, to reveal themselves. Then a song, a stretch of road, or someone’s laughter hits your ear, and suddenly you’re back in the moment, feeling the rush of emotions as if time never moved on. For Eleanor and Bonnie Whitmore, two of roots music’s most accomplished songwriter/ instrumentalist/ vocalists, the ghosts chose to appear right as Covid became entrenched — when live music evaporated and people were isolated from each other.
Bonnie, whose four solo albums are all state-of-a-real-woman’s-heart jewels, decided to join sister Eleanor and her husband Chris Masterson in their Los Angeles closed circle for a break. Chris, who’s recorded four albums with his wife as The Mastersons, saw the visit as an opportunity to issue a practical mandate: If Bonnie was coming, it was time for the sisters to make an album. Not just an album, but “the album” — the musical inevitability that’s been simmering since a 22-year-old Eleanor was protecting her curly headed 15-year-old sister at gigs in local bars. The collection, along with two covers — a song by their pal Aaron Lee Tasjan (“Big Heart Sick Mind” and “On the Wings of a Nightingale” (written by Paul McCartney for iconic siblings The Everly Brothers) — was produced by Chris Masterson and completes Ghost Stories, their debut album set for release on January 21, 2022 on Red House Records.
“We’ve had a lot of loss, a couple of dead ex-boyfriends, and a lot of friends that have passed on – and writing about the grief, especially working towards this record, there’s been a lot to consider,” Bonnie says.
The sisters’ closeness and unconventional upbringing, not to mention their melodic sensibility and pure blood harmonies, create something truly special.
“We have all these things that make us us,” Bonnie says. “Our mother was an opera singer; our father was a folk singer. When I heard Ian & Sylvia for the first time, I finally realized that song wasn’t our parents. That’s how we discovered music.”
Trained to fly as girls by a father who was an accomplished Navy Air carrier pilot, they were exposed to amphibious planes, jets, props and all sorts of aviation possibilities. Consequently, The Whitmores see the world from an above-the-world perspective. Marveling at the whimsy that comes with flying, they also acknowledge that flight allows you to see things in larger ways and make connections most people miss.
Opening with the languidly sweeping “Learn To Fly,” the lush power-pop feel buoys The Whitmores’ dizzying close harmonies. Explaining the lessons absorbed from flying, it serves as a metaphor for coping with life without losing the beauty.
Laughing, Eleanor joins in. “In our family you sing, you play an instrument, and fly. I was practically born in an airplane. Our parents did aerobatics to try to induce labor with both of us and it really explains everything!”
They laugh now about their close bond, joking about the time they went through a sisterly “divorce,” which Bonnie confesses was instigated by a “total lack of boundaries” towards her big sis. But their oddly beautiful, shared life experiences make Ghost Stories inevitable. Eleanor explains the friction then and now, “We’re very much alike. It was part of the problem in the beginning, but now it’s a strength.”
Whether it’s the bittersweet “Friends We Leave Behind,” the Elite Hotel/ Luxury Liner Emmylou Harris-evoking “The Ballad of Sissy & Porter” or the closing “Greek Tragedy,” with its addiction quicksand outcome, the echoes of people lost to the wages of misadventure permeates Ghost Stories. Yet, even in the occasionally stark arrangements or dour topics, there’s a shimmer that pulls you forward. Loss is to be endured, but not drowned in, The Whitmores suggest.
Pausing for a moment, Bonnie dials the songs in a little closer to their hearts. “‘The Ballad of Sissy and Porter’ is pretty obviously about Chris Porter, who was a musician (and former boyfriend) who was killed in a tragic accident on tour. It’s all the crazy stories he used to tell, while ‘Greek Tragedy’ is about Justin .
“He was a star who burned out too quickly,” Bonnie continues. “He was so much like his Dad, who paved the way. The answers were in front of him, but he had to make those mistakes for himself.”
“Greek Tragedy,” with its deep rush of emotions, draws heavily on The Beatles. Friend and Leonard Cohen/Tom Petty vet Hattie Webb guests on harp, offering a heavenly feel, while Chris Masterson’s George Harrison-evoking electric guitar on the chorus is luxurious. The juxtaposition – that sky high view – merges great sadness with music that lifts the listener.
Whether their mother’s lead in La Traviata, for the quiet storm post-facto obsession that builds in “Superficial World”or the steel guitar-stained “By Design,” echoes of their influences ripple throughout Ghost Stories. You can hear early Chicks, with the reeling fiddle on the train wrecking “Ricky,” and the fluidity makes these songs vast, but utterly Whitmore.
“We’re both seasoned musicians,” Eleanor offers. “We’ve made so many records on our own, for ourselves and with other artists. I’m classically trained. When we come together, we understand each other, because we have so much shared musical vocabulary.”
That musical fluidity is as buoyant on Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Big Heart, Sick Mind.” Their harmonies offer the Paul McCartney-written Everly Brothers’ cover “On The Wings Of A Nightingale” a velvety pluck. Eleanor admits, “We did want to nod to the influence of sibling harmony. Will Rigby (dBs) had sent Chris and I the demo Paul McCartney had made for the Everlys.” “In addition to McCartney’s songwriting,” Bonnie says, “his bass-playing was a huge influence on me.”
Equally tricky, but no less compelling is how The Whitmores can slide into something as seemingly ordinary as a shuffle – and make it new. From the start of “Hurtin’ for a Letdown,” they’re long on their Texas roots with a gust of fun through the track.
The title track marks the other end of the spectrum. Deeply serious, with a violin line inspired by the death of Elijah McClain, the sisters decided to widen their reach to honor all people of color killed in senseless interactions with police. “Ghost Stories” is a modern murder ballad,” Eleanor continues. “We pulled the lens back where we could really take it all in and see all the marginalized people.”
Ultimately, Ghosts Stories’ cathartic songs embrace the beauty and the experience of living. What came from lockdown and shared experiences —hiking the Grand Canyon at 5, playing bars at 15 or just embracing the beauty of living — is an album to take you places and make you feel so alive.
“Music should move people,” Eleanor affirms. “Or at least cause some kind of reaction. Sometimes it’s comforting, or you can rock out! I’ve always liked Woody Guthrie’s way of looking at it: “Music is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”