Wendy & Lisa
Reviewed on this page:
Wendy & Lisa - Fruit At The Bottom - Eroica -
Girl Bros. - White Flags Of Winter Chimneys
Wendy & Lisa are still best known as members of the Revolution, Prince's backing band, and that influence is all over their early albums. But they have an idiosyncratic approach to harmony and melody (as heard on Parade's
"Mountains" and "Sometimes It Snows In April," which they cowrote) which often leads them in unexpected, rewarding directions.
Both their fathers are well-known LA studio musicians (Gary Coleman
and Michael Melvoin), and at times they have an overprofessional,
faceless sound - particularly after their first, more
individualistic album flopped. Wendy has most of the vocal leads,
although I find her voice less striking than Lisa's. But their
compositions are consistently interesting, with thoughtful (if
disarmingly simple) lyrics, and sophisticated harmonic content.
There's a good Wendy
& Lisa fan page with frequent news updates and complete information
on the duo's frequent guest appearances and soundtrack work. (DBW)
Wendy Melvoin, most lead vocals, guitar, bass; Lisa
Coleman, some lead vocals, keyboards
Wendy & Lisa (1987)
Their first album, co-produced with former Revolution drummer Bobby
Z, is mostly midtempo and moody, filled with unorthodox chord
changes that give the work an unsettling quality ("Stay"). The
lyrics are impressionistic and a bit spacey; it's not quite like
anything else I've ever heard, though in some places Wendy's vocal
approach seems a lot like Rickie Lee Jones.
They play almost all the instruments, which isn't exactly a plus:
Wendy's drum programming isn't very interesting, and she has
facility on bass but not an outstanding groove. The best songs are
the ballads "Song About" and "The Life" (which was rereleased on the
Dangerous Minds soundtrack) and the grooving "Light." Tom Scott drops by to add soprano sax
and lyricon to the instrumental "White," a clever tune
that suffers from Prince-derived drums. The single "Waterfall"
isn't nearly as interesting as most of the rest of the album, just
midtempo pop/funk. (DBW)
In 1988, Wendy & Lisa appeared on Joni Mitchell's Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm.
Fruit At The Bottom (1989)
Not as innovative but more solidly enjoyable than their debut, here
they return to solid funk on the powerful "Lolly Lolly," the sly
"Are You My Baby" (their most Prince-like track ever), and the
energizing "Satisfaction (with the Time's
Jesse Johnson on guitar). There's also a gorgeous piano-guitar
ballad ("I Think It Was December"), enjoyable pop-rock ("From Now
On (We're One)"), and grooving pseudopunk silliness (title track).
No cowrites (except Johnson on "Satisfaction") and no coproducer,
but they're not obsessed with doing everything themselves: they add
a live drummer, Carla Azar, and Wendy's identical twin, Susannah,
adds some backing vocals. A fun listen, especially for Prince fans;
just don't expect any revelations. (DBW)
A lighter, more acoustic sound prevails - k.d. lang adds a guest vocal on "Mother
Of Pearl" and sounds perfectly at home - as the funk of the
previous album is mostly abandoned (though it comes through on the
fine "Crack In The Pavement"). "Why Wait For Heaven" is a nice
loud rocker with a huge guitar hook; Lisa's one vocal feature is a
clever ballad, orchestrated by Wendy's father. There are also some
dull rockers with obvious repetitious choruses, including "Turn Me
Inside Out" and "Strung Out." Azar is back, along with C. Ynda on
percussion and C. Berg on guitar, whoever they are. Certainly
enjoyable for the duo's fans, but I don't see this making a big
impression on anyone who's not already into them. (DBW)
After 1991, they worked on albums by Prince-influenced musicians
like Seal and Me'Shell NdegéOcello, contributed a song to the
Toys soundtrack and scored three films:
Dangerous Minds, Soul Food and Hav Plenty. In 1996
they produced a record for Doyle
Bramhall II (married to Wendy's sister Susannah), and recorded the
theme song for the TV series "The Crew." A 1994 album produced by Trevor Horn was never released.
Girl Bros. (Girl Bros.: 1998)
A group of songs reacting to or inspired by the drug-assisted death of Wendy's brother (and Smashing Pumpkins sideman)
Jonathan Melvoin. Low-key (acoustic guitars abound), low-fi (they tracked nearly everything at home) and low-energy, this
was widely hailed as a breakthrough, but I find it no more profound and far less entertaining than their earlier work,
with none of the odd harmonic touches that usually set them apart, and lots of lyrics so plain-spoken they don't convey
much of anything ("Bring You Back"). A couple of tunes are more lively: "All Nite" is rather obvious, but "Uh-Uh, Don't
Look Down" is a standout, with wicked slide guitars carrying the melody.
I avoided writing this review for years because I didn't want to say anything bad about a project so clearly from the musicians'
hearts, but if you're as shallow as I am - and you probably are - you're likely to find the record uninvolving and
frequently dull. As usual, Wendy sings most of the leads, with Lisa getting a couple of tunes to herself ("Jonathan"); there's one cover, the Disney tune "I've Got No Strings." Produced by Tchad Blake with Wendy and Lisa. (DBW)
White Flags Of Winter Chimneys (2008)
In some ways, a continuation from Girl Bros., with next to no funk influence, a laid-back sound and a homemade spirit. But the unusual harmonic movement of their first records is back ("Balloon"), so when the tunes don't grab you, they're at least intriguing ("Invisible"). Lisa is a bit more audible this time, on both piano ("Ever After") and vocals ("You And I").
And the revved-up homage "Salt & Cherries (MC5)" is a great riff-rocker.
That said, there are long stretches where you wish they'd wake up a bit (title track; "Sweet Suite (Beginning At The End)"), as Wendy's weary voice sounds not just depressed but bored. On the other hand, if you're a fan of early 70s Leonard Cohen, this could be just what you've been waiting for.
Self-produced and performed; recorded and co-produced by Michael Perfitt.
At least for now, you can buy this through their site and get four bonus demos.
Stay, baby, stay.