The Chapin Sisters bring their majestic folk harmonies to Thunderbird Café | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Chapin Sisters bring their majestic folk harmonies to Thunderbird Café

click to enlarge Sweet, light: The Chapin Sisters
Sweet, light: The Chapin Sisters

The Chapin Sisters' new album, Two, offers few initial hints of the band's provenance. At first listen, the beautiful folk songs suggest obscurantist musicians -- perhaps Renaissance Faire-goers -- not sisters from a family of popular musicians.

Sisters Lily and Abigail Chapin are the daughters of Tom Chapin (known best for his children's songs) and nieces of the late Harry Chapin; their half-sister, Jessica Craven (who helped out on the album), is the daughter of filmmaker Wes Craven. But the songs on Two are characterized by an academic eccentricity, not the privileged aloofness one might expect from children of celebrities.

Two is strongly influenced by English and Celtic folk traditions (the sisters studied English folk, among other forms, while in upstate New York) but at times verges on pop. In tone, it's mainly minimalist: The opening song, "Sweet Light," starts out a cappella, with strong, lush harmonies; the first guitar doesn't chime in until the tune is more than half over. 

The Sisters' lyrics cut a wider swath. Never overwrought, they concern mostly longing for love, and use imagery from the natural world. Their form can be poetic ("Digging a Hole" employs the kind of repetition and development common in traditional folk) or prosaic. ("Every guy I talk to / Makes me feel like I'm crazy, or mean," goes "Birds in My Garden," perhaps the album's most pedestrian offering). 

While the songs seem largely personal, The Chapin Sisters also share some of their father's activism: Their album's liner notes promote WhyHunger, an organization that advocates for solutions to food-supply problems. It's a touch that dovetails with the band's vibe: more sincere than ironic, more early-folk-revival than freak-folk. 

While they've been touring in support of She & Him, The Chapin Sisters will headline at Thunderbird Café, on Mon., Nov. 1. While the famous offspring hint at crossover appeal when their majestic harmonies turn toward the pop end of the spectrum, the band's biggest rewards are for those who like old-style earnest folk.


The Chapin Sisters with NEeMA and Ben Shannon. 8 p.m. Mon., Nov. 1 (doors at 7 p.m.). Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $12. 412-682-0177 or

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