Sisters of White Chapel

Annie Bartholomew – Sisters of White Chapel

Theater Alaska

out Friday, June 16

3 / 5

We decided to run an extended review of Alaskan Annie Bartholomew’s debut album over our usual double-capsule (ie short) review. We hope you’ll appreciate why.

Sisters of White Chapel stood out in our Music Ravings inbox in many ways. As a quick piece of context, every album that knocks on our door has a press release of no more than 200 words – even Joni Mitchell sticks to this formula. So when Sisters of White Chapel slammed into our inbox like a Moby Dick out of a Melville-length press release, we knew this was going to be a middling album. Even after we read the 2,000-word press release describing Bartholomew’s project and felt excited to spin up her Sisters of White Chapel, we were confident this album couldn’t possibly hit where Bartholomew was aiming.

Perhaps you’ve read other music reviews and know Sisters of White Chapel was funded by a local Alaskan art grant, and her author is an Alaskan native. The project is a heavily researched dive into Alaskan women sex workers of the Klondike Gold Rush in the 19th Century. Each song crafts a part of their stories.

The press release we read was ambitious, broke every format, and ballsy / ovaries-y. And when we finished reading it, Bartholomew’s excitement was clearly contagious and her brilliance overrode even the press contact we’d known since we got started at Music Ravings (fka RMMM) over a decade ago.

The things we like: Bartholomew herself must be a pure wave of overwhelming excitement and also discipline. We’ve never seen such a well-researched project on our blog, and the depth of her dedication is on par with Sufjan Stevens. (Remember Stevens’ 50-state project? Yes, Bartholomew’s journey begins from that starting line.) Her vision is fully captivating, and she dives unflinchingly into a music album about sex workers two-hundred years prior, probably not the second album of its kind. We’d say it’s courageous on her part, but our gut tells us this artist does not consider any danger in this project, or in being misunderstood or ignored. And we appreciate that kind of drive.

The music and songs themselves are what’s lacking. After you read our review, go spin up Sisters of White Chapel. You will feel excited, energized, thrilled to listen. And tomorrow, what will you do tomorrow? Sisters of White Chapel will not be on your mind. The music itself is slightly below par. Its instrumentation is typical acoustic folk; fiddle, piano, etc. et al. The lyrics, even worse so, are unmemorable. This album, save for the artist behind her, isn’t really worth your time.

But this needs to be an extended review to give one last piece of context. Bartholomew’s character herself is energizing, brave, and completely captivating. Her level of dedication to imagination, research, and execution is on the same level of Sufjan Stevens; and even if Sisters isn’t her “Illinois,” or not even quite half a “Michigan,” Bartholomew has all of Stevens’ tools at her disposal: those tools are just not honed yet. For a debut, she has every technique we could imagine an autodidact needing to imagine, write, and perform the next “Illinois,” and just because Sisters is not that brilliant album, does not mean that this is a failure. It means that Bartholomew simply needs time to brush up on her musical skills and lyrical talents.

With the full scope she has envisioned this album, we imagine Bartholomew will start to hit acclaim within the next 2-3 albums. Listen to what she puts out for a bit; right now, it’s boring, tepid, maybe even a little too polished and expected. But this Alaskan folk musician will very quickly discover “her musical voice” so to speak, and will learn to write interesting melodies that she is capable of playing; and very soon after, will develop her own significant strengths in performing on vocals and any (likely string) instruments she may need in future projects.

Sisters of White Chapel is boring, dull, and unfortunately unmemorable. The melodies are rote and copy-pasta from every other generic fiddling folk album. Also, the lyrics make it difficult to tell she’s narrating for sex workers. (Some writing advice – don’t imply your meaning, just come out and say what you mean! Practice makes directness beautiful.) As unmemorable as this listen is, you shouldn’t forget Bartholomew herself, for she is coming like a steam freight train: her upcoming albums will hit very hard and very quick. At this moment, we advise a quick stream elsewhere and saving your money for those next albums; take a pass.

Visit (and bookmark!) Bartholomew’s site.

PS her writing energy even infected us! First 7x capsule review -Mgmt

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