The billowing curtains of sound on Just Crazy Enough, the second full length album from virtuoso indie-folk band SHEL, will be both familiar and far-out to fans of the exciting sister quartet. The classically inspired mandolin, violin, and piano are there, along with the band’s glowing vocal harmonies.
But we also hear dense, ethereal textures that hover between the digital and the analog. Grooves are deeper, emboldened with electronic ambience and beat-boxing. The overall effect sheds light on their broad collection of influences, from the daring rock bands of the 60s to the contemplative composers of the 18th Century, and even the waves of modern electronica. Because or in spite of this effervescent mashup, Just Crazy Enough is a masterful move for SHEL. It’s the integral, front-to-back album statement the band has been preparing to make since they began making music.
Dynamic change and self-searching was inevitably going to be a big part of SHEL’s story in these early career years. Sisters Eva, Hannah, Sarah and Liza Holbrook are, after all, twenty-something women, born in a five-year span and raised in a bohemian, art-loving family in Fort Collins, CO. Each found an instrument to master early on, studying classical music while composing and arranging unique works for their anomalous instrumentation, violin, mandolin, piano and drums. They gained performing experience working with their songwriter father, and soon had festival promoters and media figures championing their fresh, intricately drawn sound.
SHEL is now touring and creating relentlessly in the hothouse environment of the 21st century music business. "We've always made our living playing music,' says Sarah Holbrook, "I dropped out of two different colleges, before it finally sank in that I was supposed to be playing music with my sisters full time. We signed with Republic Records early on, but escaped the 'artist protection program’ and we’re prouder than ever to be waving our indie banner."
They are united in their musical vision, yet doggedly possessive and respectful of their evolving individual identities, including the growing pains and struggles of young adulthood. “I remember having a distinct realization that we'd finally grown up, followed by the terrifying thought that we had more questions than answers about life,” says Eva Holbrook about writing the album. “Sharing these songs has shown us we're not alone.”
In a new music scene that’s crowded, genre-twisting and attuned to mastery in live performance, SHEL's spellbinding live performances tap deep skills as instrumentalists and total trust to generate improbable power on stage. They share some contemporary musical DNA with Americana bands, Punch Brothers and Crooked Still, but just as surely with adventuresome artists such as tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent and Alt-J. The future belongs to artists who go beyond mere genre blending by focusing on their inner music and the four powerful personalities of SHEL do just that.