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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