Since 2011, the Idaho-born Shook sisters have been living in Portland, Oregon, richly developing their vocal and instrumental signatures. Known as Shook Twins, Katelyn and Laurie usually perform as a quartet with Kyle Volkman on double-bass and Niko Daoussis on mandolin, electric guitar, and vocals. In April, Shook Twins will perform Iowa concerts in Ames (April 15) and Davenport (April 16).
Reviewers have been kind to Shook Twins. Acoustic Guitar magazine praises their 2014 CD What We Do as “a nearly flawless album that pushes the band into unexplored territory.” Some call Shook Twins’ music “quirky folk,” with its luscious blending of acoustic elements, creative percussion, and vocal improvisations. And let’s not forget to give credit to the subtle electronics that also contribute to their distinctive sound.
Katelyn plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, and glockenspiel while taking the telephone microphone to new heights. Laurie conjures her vocals around an equally impressive variety of instruments, including banjo, guitar, upright bass, djembe, ocarina flute, and tambourine. And then there’s the band’s giant plastic golden egg, a symbol of the common egg the ladies once shared. It became a percussive shaker after Laurie drilled a hole in the top and inserted popcorn kernels.
The Shook philosophy seems to evolve across their latest two albums. Windows (2011) acknowledges the temporal aspect of life. On the track “Growing Things,” the Shooks collaborated with Arcata, CA, bluegrass band The Bucky Walters months before the traffic death of their 26-year-old lead guitarist Brian Osper. The lyrics urge the young to “Paint your faith on your wall / Eventually your walls will fall / Cause things we build don’t last as long.”
With the track “Daemons” from What We Do, the band explores how our self-imposed limitations prevent us from realizing full potential. Mostly, this song is a sonic experience that develops gradually into melancholy beauty. Laurie’s and Katelyn’s voices blend beautifully while mandolin and bowed double-bass provide the backdrop. The lyrics remind us, “Don’t you be lazy,” as if to say that our demons take control only when we surrender attention. Despite the topic and title, “Daemons” is a beautiful, melancholic journey with a chorus that will haunt you with its blessing.
Finally, the title track for What We Do affirms that we are free to choose what happens in life. The twins’ DNA-resonant voices twist and bend through harmonies to create aural delight for listeners. But the ladies do not rely on their harmonies alone. Frequently, their songs change direction in midstream. Such is the case with the title track “What We Do.” With beat shifts similar to those pioneered by Lennon and McCartney, “What We Do” suddenly moves into a slower pace at the halfway mark, as the ladies pass percussive vocals back and forth among the swaying acoustic guitar, bass, and percussion.
If this is what the Shooks do, I’m packing up the car and heading to the concert.