The Whitmore Sisters believe in ghosts. And Americana radio stations believe in The Whitmore Sisters. More than two months since its release, their debut album, “Ghost Stories,” is still in the Americana Radio Albums Chart, sitting at No. 11 this week behind the likes of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss and Brandi Carlile.
Eleanor and Bonnie Whitmore have been making music for decades, separately, for the most part. Eleanor is one-half of The Mastersons, alongside her husband, Chris Masterson, and she and Chris are also members of Steve Earle’s band. Bonnie has released four solo albums and has played bass and sung with Hayes Carll and others.
Why it took so long for them to make an album together, they say, “is the million-dollar question.” “We talked about it for a really long time,” Eleanor says, but, her sister chimes in, “it was hard to make it a priority.” With the pandemic wiping out all touring prospects, Bonnie visited Eleanor and Chris in Los Angeles, where Chris made it clear it was time for the siblings to finally record the album.
“Ghost Stories” opens with “Learn to Fly,” an appropriate table-setter for the daughters of a former Navy pilot who taught them both to fly. They became licensed pilots, and he still teaches.
“In our family, it was kind of more of a requirement to sing and play an instrument and also fly a plane, but that was considered a secondary thing,” Bonnie shares. Their mother was an opera singer, and their dad was a folk singer. The sisters would hear dad sing a song and not know whether it was by Bob Dylan or The Beatles, or if it was an original by their father. “We kind of assumed that they were all his,” Eleanor says, with a laugh. “‘Oh, that’s Bob Dylan’s and not my dad’s.'” And despite their parents’ divergent genres, they did collaborate.
Favorite duos — besides mom and dad — for the Whitmore Sisters include The Everly Brothers, whom they nod to on “Ghost Stories” with their version of “On The Wings of A Nightingale,” written by Paul McCartney for the Everlys. Their first concert was The Jets, which featured a mother-daughter duo, and they’re also fans of Dead Rock West, Shoves & Rope, Whitehorse and Side Pony.
Asked if they believe in ghosts, the sisters emphatically answer “yes, yes,” but they’re not talking about the supernatural per se.
“Well, for one thing, the ghost stories aspect, we wanted to take it out of the realm of telling scary stories around the campfire,” says Bonnie. “It’s not about fear but more of a loss and longing and celebrating those that we care about.”
The Whitmore Sisters are on tour opening for The Mastersons, so Eleanor is doing double-duty.
“So far so good,” Eleanor says of the tour, which stops at City Winery’s Loft in Philadelphia on March 21. “We’re tied up with Steve Earle so much that [The Mastersons] don’t get a lot of headlining shows ourselves because he keeps us so busy. We’ve had great turnouts. It’s three acts in one night. We’ve got The Whitmore Sisters opening, then The Mastersons come up, Bonnie comes up and does some of her songs.”
Bonnie says, “It’s a lot of entertainment, lots of harmonies and lots of instrument changes to keep the audience engaged.”
As for The Whitmore Sisters as a long-term project, Eleanor says there’s “no hard commitment” but adds that they’re already working on new songs. Bonnie has a solo album in the works and played on John Moreland’s upcoming album, and The Mastersons have more work coming. And, as noted above, Earle keeps them busy, but that relationship is also yielding dividends for The Whitmore Sisters. He’s had them on his Outlaw Country Sirius/XM station, and they’ll be a support act on his summer tour.
The Mastersons with The Whitmore Sisters, Monday, March 21, 8 p.m., City Winery (The Loft), 990 Filbert St., Philadelphia. Buy tickets here