By Hank Adams
Eleanor and Bonnie Whitmore, The Whitmore Sisters, are no strangers to grief or love or the way the two twine together. Their debut album Ghost Stories is quietly powerful, soft but unshy.
“Learn to Fly” is a laid back kind of waltzing shuffle. “Knuckle up, you wanted to fly” they sing, the sound of their voices blending and rising together. As a metaphor for life, the song is about our soaring highs and inevitable lows. As the opening for an album that circles and loops around love, loss, and acceptance it tells us, “Buckle up, it’s time to fly.”
“The Ballad of Sissy and Porter” delivers a John Prine-esque tale of love and its echoes. An homage to the late singer and songwriter Chris Porter, a close friend of Bonnie’s, the song is from the perspective of someone who knew him, and loved him, and then had to let him go. You could call it bittersweet, except there is no bitterness here. Just that sharp sweet pain of love.
“Friends We Leave Behind” has a rainy weekend afternoon feel. “I don’t know what to say but I feel shattered,” the sisters sing. The refrain, “I will carry you, I will carry on” is a theme throughout the album. An almost reckless determination to love, to fall into love, to fly with it, and to embrace the pain at the end.
“Hurtin’ For a Letdown,” “By Design,” “On the Wings of a Nightingale” and “Big Heart Sick Mind” also take on love. From ruefulness to hopelessness to a soaring kind of joy, or maybe just that first great high. The sisters tackle addiction in a few forms on this album, and these songs nod to their own form of addiction being love. Or, perhaps truer to say, to love and heartache on an endless loop.
“Ghost Stories” has that ever-present blend of sweet + sad. “Knowing now what you went through deepens the pain that you’ve gone…I will remember, I will say your name.” Inspired by the murder of Elijah McClain, the sisters look at the kind of place where such tragedy takes place with an almost casual regularity. “We need to tend to our garden, weeding out what is rotten,” they sing as the string-led flowing motion blooms, as a snare marches in the background, a steady protest beat.
“Greek Tragedy” creates tension from the first opening notes. “Could you not survive yourself, your body let you down…Carry on in our memories, goodbye, sweet dreams.” It’s a strong and steady build, strings and harmonies swelling to that now-familiar sweet sharp pain. When it fades away, goodbye, sweet dreams, the album ends. Not with a shout but with a whisper.
Ghost Stories is layered, complicated – musically, lyrically. And yet it’s delivered bold and neat. No fuss, no fat. Just two sisters overwhelmingly confident in what they want to say and how they want to say it – together.
Hank Adams is a writer and photographer, country music fan from way back, and an overalls enthusiast. They are based in Central Pennsylvania.