Austin, Texas produces more musicians than any other city in the United States, so it should come as very little surprise that many of the most highly regarded bands in rock hail from the Lone Star State’s fine capital. Yet, with the state’s rich history of cowboy culture and country music, it’s amazing that there aren’t more breakout acts with an ear for twang. Austin eight-piece Brothers and Sisters don’t neglect their state’s heritage, however, marrying sunny pop music with a laid back alt-country vibe on their self-titled debut, a 12 song set of dusty guitars, warm, crackling organ and ragged vocal harmonies.
Brothers and Sisters’ story actually begins in Los Angeles, where frontman Will Courtney lived for a time, playing music but ultimately growing frustrated with his surroundings, which is reflected in crackly, Rhodes-driven opener “New Life,” in which Courtney sings “I’m dreamin’ of a new life” and “in order to pay my way, I’ve been sticking around,” and on the shout-along rocker “Los Angeles,” that sentiment is echoed. Yet so much of the music on Brothers and Sisters finds its muse in California legends like Gram Parsons, The Byrds and The Beach Boys, that the city most certainly made an impact on Courtney’s songwriting for the better.
Courtney’s sister Lily is also part of the band, thus making their name a very literal matter-of-fact description. Her harmonies add a bright, sunny disposition to the jangly Wilco-like “One Night” and the lazy tones of “Sunday Living.” Their harmonies aren’t perfect, mind you, but this is more of a rock record than anything else, and few rock singers seem all that concerned with operatic delivery. Yet it’s hard to deny the truly transcendent sounds of the vocals on “Without You,” a trippy, Byrds-influenced ballad that’s caught somewhere between a grassy hillside and the stratosphere.
Most of Brothers and Sisters is laid back fare, and as such, its strongest moments are largely mid-tempo ’70s AM fare. “Old Age” moseys along a bright groove, while Courtney laments “old age is bringing me down.” Amen brother. Meanwhile, “Lost and Found” bounces along, switching rhythmic syncopation in the middle of the song, teetering between Beach Boys like pop and Byrds-y rock. The stunningly dark “Breathing Lessons” almost seems to pick up in pace beyond the prior few songs, yet does so without the aid of percussion. It may come as a surprise to some that the newest member of the band is Trail of Dead frontman Conrad Keely, and that the Courtney siblings actually contributed vocals to the forthcoming TOD album, but it just goes to show that one of the greatest aspects of having such a large hometown music scene is that it’s bound to be a diverse one.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.