Some folks may remember Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman from their work with Prince & The Revolution. You can see them in the film ‘Purple Rain’, standing either side of the pint-sized funk flaneur during his climactic performance of the title tune. More than mere accompaniment for Prince’s project, they had a significant influence on his musical direction during that period when he moved from straight disco-funk to…well, Prince. Once their employer found a new direction, Wendy & Lisa seemed to disappear from view. In fact, they have never stopped writing and performing, even touching the charts in the early ’90s with a few hits of their own. They have also been working tirelessly behind the scenes in the music industry, producing and writing for others, and are the creative force behind the music for the TV series ‘Heroes’.
With that kind of pedigree, one should expect great things of White Flags Of Winter Chimneys, their first album since 1998′s Girl Bros. The title alone – a lyric taken from Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hejira’ – sets the scene for something ambitious. ‘Balloon’ opens with melancholic piano and ethereal harmony before inventive chord changes lead you away from the familiar and into those places only someone like Mitchell herself would normally go. It soon becomes clear that we are dealing with more than the run of the mill. One influence merges with the next, creating a coherent yet surprising work, but there is room for playing it straight too as the rocking ‘Salt & Cherries’ turns out to be a paean to the MC5 with lots of appropriately dirty guitar and Detroit-style partying. These songs provide glimpses of events, buried within thickets of memory, and so White Flags Of Winter Chimneys serves as a kind of journey into the past – into regret, loss and past crimes of passion.
‘Red Bike’ is perhaps the most conventional song on album, having a climactic verse and epic chorus. But with Wendy & Lisa, conventional is a relative term. As a listener, you begin in a straightforward fashion to the find music expand before your eyes. In a way, there are similarities to Joni Mitchell’s late ’70s albums where she constructed stories around landscapes of sound. On the most acoustic sounding of the songs, the vocals actually mirror the sonorous reverb of Mitchell’s voice, as though the ghost of her influence is emerging. There is a maturity and wisdom to White Flags Of Winter Chimneys which may not satisfy the shortening attention span of our pop music generation but will offer up great things if given time.
UK release date: 23/02/09; www.myspace.com/girlbrosnetwork
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