CD Review: ‘Just Crazy Enough’ by SHEL

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I feel as though I’ve lost something… No, not lost, but forgotten something.  Something that was so present in my life once upon a time, but now has been buried under the burden of adulthood.  Each day passes before my eyes as I drone on, carrying around my list of priorities, expectations, and what-have-you’s.  I keep my regrets bundled in my back pocket so that I can’t help but sit askew.  Four extraordinary young women from Ft. Collins, Colo., have cleared that fog from my eyes, reminding me of my forgotten companion.  It’s child-like wonder, and it radiates through these songs as a ray of light through the morning mist.

Just Crazy Enough, the new album from the sister act known as SHEL, makes me smile.  That might sound like a rather plain statement, but it’s deeper than you may think.  This sophomore release is more than just a fun collection of tunes, though they bring them in spades.  The tracklisting overflows with a spirit that wraps you in a loving embrace, lifting you up to the rooftops and cradling you in its comforting reassurance.  It cracks open the shell of apathy and makes you grateful to be in this moment.  I can’t help but be sad due to all the time I’ve spent letting life beat me down, but I’m so happy to have found a momentary reprieve.

“Alright,” you say, “Barry has lost it.”  Fair enough, let us embark upon the finer details of this charming release.  For those who were fortunate enough to snag a copy of the group’s limited time fan-release, The Laboratory Sessions, you might notice a few familiar faces.  Three tunes have been overhauled for this release: “You Could Be My Baby,” which now pulsates with an even more resounding low end, reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Come Together;” “Moonshine Hill,” the Appalachian foot-stomper about being selective in our vices, now featuring a choral intro and extra guitar, bass, and background vocals that fill previously found airy space; and “Stronger Than My Fears,” the soft, finger-plucked guitar closer that now features subtle electronic, symphonic overtones, as well as chanting that brings to mind the African Savanna.

SHEL has always brought us interesting sounds and styles, touching on genres such as folk and classical, while rolling each song into an accessible, catchy package.  Here we find them going a step further, incorporating Liza’s deft beat-boxing [“Rooftop”] that previously was only displayed during their live performances.  Not only that, but after the inclusion of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle Of Evermore” on their debut album, the ladies have decided to venture once more into rock tributes, presenting us with a truly chilling rendition of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”  As Metallica has been one of my favorite bands for over 15 years, I’ll admit that it was difficult for me to hear it in such a strikingly different arrangement, but the Holbrook sisters have been so creative in their approach and I can’t fault their results.  While I wouldn’t put Just Crazy Enough head and shoulders above SHEL’s previous releases, it remains as stunning as all their work has been thus far.  If you’re anything like me, Just Crazy Enough is sure to put a smile on your face.

Buy Just Crazy Enough at:  iTunes | Amazon

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CD Review: ‘The Laboratory Sessions’ by SHEL

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The Holbrook sisters are back with SHEL’s second musical offering, entitled The Laboratory Sessions.  After a period of braving the road on tireless tours in support of their first album, these four talented ladies from Fort Collins, Colorado have presented us with a new batch of concoctions.  Somehow they managed to find time to write music in between their gigs and rigorous workout competitions, at times being forces to compose while taking shifts behind the wheel.  But now the new release is upon us and I must say, it’s quite tasty!

Warning: Side effects may include extreme musical addiction and enjoyment.

It was sheer happenstance that I stumbled upon SHEL (Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza), but I’m quite happy that I did.  Within two weeks of discovering their music I was watching them perform in Washington D.C. and didn’t even own their debut album until after the concert had wrapped up.  Since then I’ve had the honor of interviewing Hannah about the band and her own solo release, become even more of a fan, and thus have eagerly awaited this follow-up album since its announcement.  The ladies used PledgeMusic.com to crowd-fund the LP, and provided a great number of rewards for supporting the effort.  What I especially liked was that they offered various release packages, ranging from the bare-bones digital album & commentary bundle, an all instrumental version of the album, as well as early demos and cell-phone recorded tastes of the songs as they were just coming into being.  From bud to blossom, and from digital to the kitchen sink, the ability to get inside this album and look around was vast.

 

The Laboratory Sessions, when compared to the self-titled debut, feels very organic.  While the previous release was fantastic and built one strong song upon the next, the new album feels like a more united, focused effort.  The quartet haven’t abandoned the folk-rock-pop amalgamated roots that they established from their outset, so no worries there.  But Eva said something that struck me in the commentary released alongside the work, saying that as she writes more and more music, she does so “to move people.  Not to be like, ‘Look what I can do,’ but ‘Look what you can feel.’”  And this album does that, backing away from some of the showier aspects of the debut, but brimming with emotion and experience.  Take for example “You Could Be My Baby,” which sounds like a near, dear relative of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” sung with a confidence previously unheard from the girls.  On the other end of the spectrum we have “I’m Just A Shadow,” as bleak and haunting as any dirge I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.  Of course, we can’t leave without a good ole fashioned drinking song, and “Moonshine Hill” comes to our rescue.  It’s a personal favorite, I must confess.

Some of you might say, “How can the album be a united, focused effort if it goes from confident to bleak to songs about drinking?”  Well, firstly, it’s one song about drinking.  Secondly, you should go listen to the first album.  Great release, but its songs range from the circus to owls to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle Of Evermore” and then some, whereas this one focuses more on personal relationships, overcoming fears, and homesickness.  And alcohol, but that’s one song!  The only song which feels a little detached is “Lost Without You,” and this is because it features singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop in a duet with Eva, as opposed to the four-piece Holbrook harmonies that we’ve come to know throughout the rest of the release.  But it’s a good song, so I can’t blame them for including it.

 

The Holbrook sisters have been busy in the last few years.  Not only have they done a ton of touring, but Hannah has released a solo piano EP, Eva has co-written several songs with the aforementioned Gareth Dunlop (the song “Hold On” made it into the movie The Best Of Me), and they have continued to write and create their own music videos for existing and new songs!  It’s amazing that they even had time to write this new album, but I suppose that’s why they sometimes chose to compose while driving from town to town.  I wouldn’t recommend trying that, kids.  The Laboratory Sessions is a welcome addition to SHEL’s growing catalog and that’s coming from a well-satisfied customer and fan.  Now is the perfect time for you to do a little experimenting of your own and see if a dash of SHEL cures your musical ills.  I’m not selling snake oil, I swear.

 

Buy the song, “I Was Born A Dreamer,” to help an animal in need: iTunes | Amazon
Buy the song, “You Could Be My Baby” at: iTunes
Buy the song, “When The Sky Fell” at: iTunes


For more on SHEL, visit:
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