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The Living Sisters: A Kind Of Alchemy

Harmony is a tricky thing. Practically any vocal group can arrange itself into melodies and countermelodies that cover the sonic spectrum. But there's a certain kind of alchemy that occurs with not only the right combination of notes, but also the right combination of voices, with perfect interactions of timbres, tones and ranges. Combine exactly the right elements, and instead of a mere congregation of singers, you've got a single organic unit.

Joining forces as their individual careers are chugging along -- and finding that their voices fuse together into a greater whole -- The Living Sisters' Inara George, Eleni Mandell and Becky Stark are like a distaff quirk-pop Crosby, Stills & Nash. The most gorgeous song on a debut album full of them, "This Mountain Has Skies" is an achingly slow Western waltz that evokes the wide-open geography and clear air of its lyric.

Stark takes the nominal lead, but Mandell and George are so close behind her that she melts into their harmonies without the slightest apparent adjustment. The three voices move and breathe together to become one, and there comes a point at which it's easy to grow impatient whenever they're not singing. Those sections are brief -- the longest is the guitar solo, when the singers step back in halfway through with prolonged oohs -- but probably necessary, because the only other option is to drown in the vocals. And The Living Sisters would prefer to float.

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Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.
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