The Bankester girls are all grown up. What started as four cute little girls singing with their parents in 2003 has grown into three young women fronting the show with mom and dad. The eldest, Melissa (on bass), is 26, now married with a small child; Emily, 21, is on fiddle; and Alysha, 18, is on mandolin. All are now proper young ladies. Sister Lindsay, 25, left the group a few years ago.
This is one seriously talented family. From their very first record in 2006, In The Beginning, it was clear that all of the Bankesters could sing. Now we see that all five – including mom and dad – are very capable adult vocalists, and that they can pick as well. The only non-Bankester in the bunch is banjo picker Kyle Triplett, who is Melissa’s husband. Talk about keeping it in the family!
They sure do like Lisa Shaffer. Fully five of the twelve tracks on the record are Lisa’s songs, with as many different co-writers. Bankester pére Phil says that they hadn’t specifically intended to focus on her material; it just sort of happened organically.
“We discovered Lisa’s writing while working on our last CD with Stephen Mougin, so I contacted her when we started looking for songs. We initially selected three from what she sent. Then when we were looking for more up-tempo songs, I contacted her again and she sent another batch which happened to include Love Has Wheels and Guardian Angel. There’s something about her writing that really connects with us.”
The songs walk the line between bluegrass and acoustic country, perhaps in part owing to Shaffer’s influence. The opening track though, Lisa’s Love Has Wheels, gets a very grassy treatment with Josh Williams on guitar and duet harmony with Melissa. But Shaffer’s Love Don’t Give Up On Me Now, with Alysha on lead vocal, Rob Ickes on reso, and Larry Atamauik on drums, would sound right at home on contemporary country radio.
Other grassy numbers include Time and Love, written by Kyle and Melissa, and Storms, from Jon Weisberger and Nora Jane Struthers.
To my ear the most satisfying tracks are the ones Emily sings. Her voice is slightly lower pitched than her sisters, and it exudes a warmth, richness and sincerity that is very appealing. She is especially strong on When I’m Gone (The Cups Song), which also features Sierra Hull on mandolin and harmony vocal and Kenny Malone on percussion. Listen for her also on Found, a country/pop track from Kyle and Melissa, and Guardian Angel, another from Shaffer and Aaron Barker.
Mom (Dorene) gets her chance to shine on Rise Up, a bluesy Gospel quintet featuring Jim Hurst accompanying with his signature, funky fingerstyle guitar. She’s A Stranger finds Papa Phil on a James Taylor-ish Mark Brinkman song that looks at the tragedy that dementia brings to an older couple.
It would seem that The Bankesters are on their way to even greater success in the music business. Working with a strong independent label can only help in marketing their hybrid sound. Let’s hope they don’t drift too far from their bluegrass roots.
Look for Love Has Wheels wherever bluegrass acoustic music is sold, and from popular download sites.