The notion of three precocious, button-cute teenage siblings who play their own instruments might conjure images of pop confections like Hanson and The Jonas Brothers, but any preconceptions about Kitty, Daisy & Lewis should end there.
The two sisters and one brother that make up the Durham clan – ages 15, 17 and 20 respectively – display influences that lean more towards blues-rock than Mmmbop. Seasoned multi-instrumentalists, they take turns with banjos, ukuleles and pretty much anything else sliced from wood and string that can be strummed, plucked, whacked or otherwise manhandled. As if The Partridge Family vibe were not pronounced enough already, the loose, rollicking rhythm section is filled out by guitarist Graeme Durham and bassist Ingrid Weiss, who serve double-duty as the trio’s band members and parents.
After supporting artists like Jools Holland and Mika, and playing at festivals that include Glastonbury and SXSW, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis deliver their eponymous debut album, a 30-minute sprint of swingin’, stompin’, blues-inflected rockabilly covers stacked with handclaps, harmonicas and howling lead vocals from the smoky-voiced Kitty.
Never mind that the group tackles tunes that its grandparents’ generation might not be old enough to remember, or that upbeat ditties like Ooo Wee and first single Going Up The Country diverge very little from the originals, the album is an always reverent, often entertaining time capsule back to the post-prohibition era of blues and early rock ‘n’ roll.
On rare occasions the group even adds its own unique twist to the time-tested format. Mohair Sam finds Kitty adopting a Mick Jagger-esque swagger that complements the song’s gritty, Creedence-style swamp-rock. Her off-kilter phrasing on Polly Put The Kettle On is mesmerizing – she seems to curl her lips around the words of the chorus, unleashing them to the listener, then snatching them back, like a mischievous child tantalising a tomcat with a piece of string. Equally playful is Lewis’s original composition Buggin’ Blues, which fits in snugly with the group’s tastefully obscure set list of rockabilly selections.
At times, the group totters dangerously close to cover-band karaoke and nearly spoils its good standing with the medium it so clearly admires. Kitty’s affected over-enunciation on the ambitious Muddy Waters cover I Got My Mojo Working dips into blues-bar posturing, while the woozy, tweaked-out Hawaiian guitar on Honolulu Rock-Roll-A shifts out of tune one too many times to qualify as simple avant-garde flourish. The band shows talent and promise, but these gifted white kids can’t expect to ride on the coattails of their blues heroes forever.
It’s a tried and true tradition – everyone from Elvis Presley to the Black Keys is guilty – but one hopes KD&L can find it in themselves to tinker with the formula a bit and, in time, bust out a batch of genuinely original songs. After all, even The White Stripes mess with marimbas and Irish folk songs once in a while.