Like The Everly Brothers, The Chapin Sisters come from a musical family. Their father is Grammy-award-winning musician Tom Chapin; their uncle was folk singer and humanitarian Harry Chapin. This pedigree shows in their most recent release, A Date With The Everly Brothers, an album of 14 cover songs by the beloved duo.
A Date With The Everly Brothers focuses on the songs released by the siblings between 1957 and 1961, the most commercially successful period in their career. About half of the songs are Everly originals; most of the rest are Felice and Boudleaux Bryant compositions from the brothers’ tenure on Cadence Records in the late ’50s.
The album, recorded in one day at Thump Studios in Brooklyn, has a vibrant, spirited quality that is not overproduced or glossy. Instead, the Chapin Sisters have chosen to remain quite faithful to the original recordings of these songs. Trying to recreate the Everlys’ astonishing harmonies would be a challenge for anyone, but the sisters’ harmonies serve the source material well. Lily portrays Don, while Abigail hits Phil’s high notes. The sisters are also supported by half a dozen musicians on various instruments throughout the album.
Within these 14 tracks, there are several that were chart-makers for the Everly Brothers back in the day. “Crying In The Rain” (which peaked at #6 on the US charts in 1962) opens the album, the sole collaboration between renowned songwriters Howard Greenfield and Carole King. “Cathy’s Clown,” one of the Everly Brothers’ best-known hits (it reached #1 in the US and the UK in 1960) is lovingly approached with handclaps while the sisters’ individual voices stand out clearly. The B-side to that single, “Always It’s You” is also featured on the album, and the Chapins’ cover ends with some impeccable harmonies.
“So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)” and “When Will I Be Loved,” two Top Ten hits written by Don and Phil respectively, are both approached with obvious, deep respect for the original versions. “Sigh, Cry, Almost Die,” written by both Don and Phil almost sounds like an alternate take from 1960, with, of course, female vocals. Similarly, the Bryant-written “Love Hurts” (which never charted for the Everlys in 1960, but which was a huge hit for Nazareth in 1975) is handled with grace and beauty befitting the song.
The Chapin Sisters, in keeping with the original flavor of these nearly 50-year-old recordings, have not changed the genders in any of the songs. While their dedication to the Everly Brothers aesthetic is admirable and impressive, overall I feel like the utilization of their female harmonies isn’t quite enough to propel the album into remarkable territory. I find myself wishing that they’d pushed things a little further or experimented just a tad. However, there are some exceptions where the Chapin Sisters truly make the songs their own.
One of the album’s standouts is the traditional Appalachian murder ballad “Down In The Willow Garden,” which originally appeared on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us in 1958. Lily and Abigail’s version is easily on a par with Don and Phil’s. In fact, I would love to hear the Chapin Sisters record an album of traditional Appalachian folk music.
“Maybe Tomorrow,” a Don and Phil original, definitely benefits from Lily and Abigail’s harmonies, particularly in the “I don’t” of the “I don’t know . . .” line, when their vocals meld and separate so beautifully it’s nearly impossible to determine who is singing which part.
One of the few songs to receive additional production is “Sleepless Nights,” which had three layers of theremin added by Rob Schwimmer. The haunting instrumentation in the original was probably tremelo guitar, but here the added theremin gives the song an incredible, ghostly quality.
The best song on the album by far is the sisters’ phenomenal cover of “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” the only single ever to be at #1 on all of Billboard‘s charts simultaneously (on June 2, 1958). If there is a song synonymous with the Everly Brothers, this is it. The Chapins perform some exquisite, celestial harmonies in the beginning (which were added in later) and slow the pace down just enough to make you hear this classic tune in an entirely new way.
A Date With The Everly Brothers is out today and can be ordered directly from The Chapin Sisters website.