Over the past two years, Dirty Dollhouse has consistently braided elements of pop, folk and blues, unearthing an iron willed harmony that is pure and untarnished. The Philadelphia based trio has long cultivated a sound that revels in it’s own unpredictability, bending to the shifting energies that accompany a Dirty Dollhouse composition. Because amongst those gentle, spry melodies is a hard-edged weariness, sewn together by the radiant vocal blend of Chelsea Mitchell, Amber Twait and Vanessa Winters. To hear them sing is to witness words and music as one, bound together with an armored force that retains it’s character, humility and backbone.
Every time Chelsea Mitchell steps towards a microphone, it’s to invite you to read a page from her own handwritten story. With her fingers on the frets and her eyes closed, her words come alive like the sketches in a flipbook, her band mates subtlety shading in any untouched pieces of canvas. Contrasting the deeply personal with the exuberant, Mitchell composes songs that capture all of the elation and heartache of the everyday and familiar. Together, Mitchell, Twait and Winters sire a musical panoramic, marked and engraved by the melody and refrain of it’s creators.
Gathering at Philadelphia’s Bourbon and Branch this past Friday night (12-05-14), Dirty Dollhouse took the stage to celebrate the release of their brand new EP, 25 Shades. With additional accompaniment from guitarist Brian Dale Allen Strouse, bassist Brendan Cunningham and drummer Josh Friedman, the group exhibited the humor and solidarity of a traveling band without neglecting the polish and spark that accompanies a magnetic live performance. And while Strouse, Cunningham, Friedman and Winters are band mates in another Philadelphia based band, the Lawsuits; only two became an integral part in the behind the scenes recording of 25 Shades. In addition to performing on the EP, Strouse and Friedman worked closely with the group by personally handling the production and engineering of the entire project. All of which had a hand in making their presence another cause for the celebratory atmosphere that defined the night, saturating the air until it threatened to strip the paint right off the walls.
Throughout the night, Strouse, Cunningham and Friedman alternated between their places onstage and in the audience, smartly avoiding playing on any songs that would not have benefitted from denser instrumentation. Twait and Winters also exited the stage for a select few of Mitchell’s previous solo compositions, framing each song’s arrangement in a revolving door of surprise and intrigue.
Early on, the Mitchell solo track, “Married In The Aviary” took on a fullness that could be felt in every chime from Strouse’s cherry red guitar. On the recorded version, the arrangement is sparser, even prettier, though it was interesting to see how well the song worked with a full, electric band. Although it was the back-to-back performances of “Old Fires,” and “Shake All Over,” that most beautifully conveyed the band’s versatility. Featuring a blues-tinged melody and haunting vocals, “Old Fires” finds our narrator lonely, despondent and alarmed by the consequences of returning to an old love and a bad situation. Countering that song’s downtrodden, weathered point-of-view, was a rousing rendition of “Shake All Over.” In what could easily pass as a lost Sun Records demo from 1959, the infectious arrangement of “Shake All Over,” unleashed the group’s early rock and roll influence, priming the audience for a night of quality, virtue and fun.
Yet the most heart-stopping moment of the night came in the form of, “AnnaLee.” Mitchell, Twait and Winters sang the traditional song in unison, completely unaccompanied. Any barroom conversation completely evaporated as silence swept across the room, absorbing everything that once lay in its path before settling in its wake. Drawing near the end of a night of tightly wound melodies and towering vocals, the band proved that they can maintain a blistering pulse even when experimenting with delicate sounds. And while the sight of three microphones and a single guitar can often play into the cliché of stripped down, weepy folk, the spontaneity and kick of a Dirty Dollhouse performance makes it clear that there is no need for fragile stickers.
Article by: Caitlin Phillips