Sisters of mercy

Your first clue as to what to expect from Austin's Therapy Sisters comes when you dial their number and get their answering machine: To leave a message for Lisa, press one; to leave a message for Maurine, press two. For the Therapy Sisters, it depends: If you're obsessive-compulsive, press one repeatedly; if you're co-dependent, please ask someone to press two; if you have multiple personalities, please press three, four, five, and six; if you're paranoid delusional, we know who you are and what you want, just stay on the line so we can trace the call.

The Therapy Sisters--Lisa Rogers and Maurine McLean--have been purveying a unique brand of folk for more than a decade now, combining backgrounds in psychological counseling (Lisa is a social worker, and Maurine has used her interpretive abilities in Spanish/English and sign language in therapeutic settings) with a love of humor and music.

The two blend elements of folk, swing, and country music with a sense of humor that alternates between sweetly silly and sardonic. They come up with something that sounds like a cross between the Andrews Sisters and Dan Hicks--a slightly sunnier version of the Roches, if you will, a band Lisa calls a "big influence."

"We're a therapy-happy society," says Lisa--who came to the Sisters after stints in various "women's" bands with a background in western swing and bluegrass. "I think anyone who's stood in line at the grocery store and read those magazines can count that as a form of analysis. There's always those quiz articles, or AA or some other support group."

"Or one-on-one, like with your hair cutter or bartender," Maurine adds. "In part, the band is about us, emoting and having our catharsis in public, but it's also about us as a band relating to the audience about the feelings we're talking about."

Although they have plenty of musical chops (Maurine was in the band No Mercy before the Sisters and has a background in Irish traditional music), the duo's real strength is the funny, punny, playful word play they use while tackling a host of modern problems. On a cut from their 1993 album Mood Swings titled "The Big One," an ode to hitting 40, Lisa announces a steady stream of age-induced considerations--"what's escrow?...uh-oh, I'm startin' to moan...stayin' close to the bathroom all day--" before turning around and welcoming the advancing years. Naming one of the advantages as "...saying 'oh, well' and really meaning it," she goes to rattle off a list of positives: "...AARP and goodbye to Tampax/and discounts wherever you go..."

Other cuts sing the praises of "Shallow Men" or bemoan the "Terminally Trendy." On the sassily swinging "My Finger is an Instrument of Death," Maurine wishes that sundry daily annoyances--needy lovers, slow drivers--could be dispatched with the ease of the sugar ants in her kitchen as she invites them all to "Shake hands with the Digit of Death."

The Sisters have already grabbed themselves a slice of big-time pie when "The Weenie-Whacking Woman"--a boogie-tempo ode to feminist action figure Lorena Bobbitt--topped the charts on the syndicated Dr. Demento Show. ("She knew that the law would never call it rape/So finally she decided to make her escape/But as she packed to leave there was one small thing she remembered/She had decided to relieve her pushy spouse of his offending member.") Unfortunately, although a crowd-pleaser live, "Weenie" never appeared on disc or record (the Sisters sent Dr. Demento a DAT).

In fact, there's a shortage of recorded Therapy Sisters material out there in general. Their first three albums are out of print, and Mood Swings is "barely available." Fear not, however: Beyond Prescription, the group's fifth album, is being readied for release even as you read this and should hit the streets soon. They're also working on a Christmas album and a greatest--or at least favorite--hits album taken from the previous four albums, which sport names like Multiple Personalities and Relapse. Prescription is the duo's most ambitious work yet; listening to the rough mixes reveals an album full of horns, more complicated arrangements, and what seems to be a bit more serious approach: songs like "World Apart" and "Secrets" deal with subjects such as romantic dysfunction and unacknowledged trauma, respectively.

"Really?" Maurine exclaims, taken a bit aback. "More serious?"
"No foolin'?" Lisa says at the same time, sounding more puzzled than shocked.

Perhaps they have a point. "Two Minds" is a classic Sisters tune, pushed along by a swooping, gamboling fiddle while the narrator ponders her divergent will--"One says 'tell you what'/The other says 'who asked ya?'" "Pool" is another paean to a mangled dangler drawn from current events--this time, about a horny-but-hapless guy who attempted union with the recirculating equipment in a swimming pool.

"I believe," Lisa says, vainly suppressing a giggle, "that the story was from St. Petersburg."

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Matt Weitz