july 2008
Sisters Morales
Luna Records

On their first album since 2002’s moving Para Gloria, the lyrically engrossing and gloriously musical Talking To the River, Lisa and Roberta Morales offer a dim view of the price of love, song after song detailing bruised feelings stemming from deceit and betrayal, dreams gone sour, and appeals to a higher power for guidance, salvation or redemption. One senses they wish to be alone.

To frame these original poison pen letters, producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos sculpts a dense, layered soundscape incorporating rootsy, guitar-driven southwestern country-rock, R&B flavored rock ‘n’ roll (check out the organ-rich stomp and gospel-tinged harmonies on “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” an engaging, sing-song musical backdrop for Lisa’s firm, unyielding directive to herself or any other aggrieved party to dump the bum, assuring whomever that “he’ll just shrink down to nothing! Nothing, nothing, nothing!” Get the picture?) and percussive and melodic flourishes reflecting the sisters’ Mexican roots. Interesting that the Moraleses were born and raised in Tuscon, AZ, home town of Linda Ronstadt, because Lisa has more than a little of La Ronstadt’s husky timbre and belting bravado in her vocal attack, their similarity most striking right off the bat on the album opening, and tone setting, “You’re Losing Me to No One,” its lyrical hasta la vista to an obsessive, controlling lover betraying the music’s seductive rumba beat. Conversely, Lisa confuses the issue by admitting in “Time Off and Peace,” over a soft, folk-flavored arrangement that unfolds into a forceful, country-rock strut keyed by the exemplary guitarist David Spencer’s graceful, controlled wailing, that she’s a piece of work herself, to wit: “Baby, I’m not crazy/Well maybe a little bit/But I just can’t change/My body’s on overload/It’s soaking wet/It’s going overboard from dreams I haven’t had yet,” as she develops a sentiment she expressed in the first verse, “Baby, I’m okay/I just need time to myself these days.” At which point every male listener, in a paralyzing flashback, hears an old flame saying, “It’s not you…” or “we need to talk.” Dreams, or the dashing thereof by someone to whom “truth and fiction are often the same,” are the animating conceit of a furious, driving, Spanish-flavored emancipation proclamation, “I Won’t Stand Still,” which warns at one point, “shower me with forgiveness/but don’t ever change my name.” Multilingual listeners may find other screeds within two traditional numbers, “La Canoera” (“The Canoeists”) and “La Macura” (recorded by The Mavericks on the group’s great Trampoline album), but those are rather novel diversions amidst the English language torchings herein.

Then, after this fury has subsided, Roberta brings the drawing and quartering to a poignant, piercing close with her beautifully measured but emotionally delivered piano ballad, “Where is Love,” a wounded sensing of more upheaval ahead, a plea for release from her pain and a frank concession, sung in a voice laden with anguish, that “I’ll never know what went wrong.” In this glooming peace is a foreshadowing of solace, a comfort the other songs refuse to offer in their anger and lust for retribution. Even the male of the species can dig that, but be ready to duck for cover, men.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024