Friday, August 03, 2007
Special to The Oregonian
Belinda and Melissa (hence "Beliss") are classically trained musicians bred into a jazz family. They've been singing together since they were kids. When their mom played organ in church, she sat them down on either side of her so they wouldn't mess with each other. At the time Belinda called Melissa "trumpet tonsils" because she sang loud. They've worked all that out, although sibling-hood is a lifelong affliction.
The new album is dual-purpose: Their harmonies are lovely; the music is soothing, seductive, even, but there are clever, political, sometimes subversive lyrics. Many of the songs have a familiar acoustic guitar "chink-chinka-chinka" ring, but the Underwoods are anything but boilerplate singer-songwriters.
"Going Down" starts out as a lively, girlie love song, but after a happy first verse, it becomes a cleverly worded indictment of everything they consider wrong about the current U.S. state of affairs. They are decidedly lefties. "Baby Cop" is a hilarious depiction of the psychological underpinnings of law enforcement. There are some lovely songs with heartfelt nonpolitical lyrics, too, including one about their mom.
They are joined on some tunes by Martin Zarzar, Pink Martini's multi-instrumentalist. The sisters both play guitar and ukulele; Melissa plays sax and Belinda plays bass. As talented as they are as musicians, though, it's their lyric writing that sets them apart.
Label: Cosmic muse records
Web site: www.myspace.com/belissmusic
Tom D'Antoni is a Portland freelance writer; firstname.lastname@example.org.