There’s nothing that compares to a sibling duo as far as harmony, symmetry, and common intent are concerned. In bluegrass, it’s a tradition that dates back to the Stanley Brothers and the Louvin Brothers, and then extends forward, to bands like the Gibson Brothers, the brother-sister duo of Sean and Sara Watkins, and of course, countless other artists who were raised in their family’s musical confines.
Theo & Brenna MacMillan can also be considered similar practitioners in that regard, given that they share the same parents and musical sensibilities. Their debut album for Mountain Fever Records, Dreams For Sale, highlights their vocal virtuosity along with a series of songs that draw from both well-known — and, at times, unexpected — standards, and their own affecting originals. With Theo on guitar and Brenna on banjo, the two share lead vocals, while an astute backing band — Mary Meyers on mandolin and harmony vocals, Maddie Denton on fiddle, and Mike Winsor on bass — provide further instrumental accompaniment.
The result is a stunning selection of upbeat melodies that find perfect alignment within their bluegrass boundaries. The rapid-fire rendering of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s classic, I Can Hear Kentucky Calling Me, opens the album with a rapid-fire flourish, making it clear at the outset that the duo’s ties to tradition remain solidly in sync. That’s not to say they don’t have ideas of their own. “All the songs I write for you don’t come from dreams,” Theo insists on the title track before his sister Brenna boldly adds, “Most of mine do.”
It hardly matters either way. The material is exuberant and expressive by any measure, whether it’s offered in the form of a down-home delivery like Gone Hunting, the hymnal-like repast of Is It For Love, or the mellow instrumental, Old. So too, their imaginative choice of covers — particularly their unlikely take on the oldie goldie, Be My Baby, and Paul Simon’s classic, Kodachrome — reflects a decidedly daring approach to their craft, and an innate ability to invest an original imprint into each of their offerings.
As a result, Dreams For Sale measures up as a most auspicious introduction and one that bodes well for the pair’s future endeavors. Suffice it to say, a follow-up can’t come too soon.