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Typical Sisters: Hungry Ghost (Outside In)

A review of the album from the trio of Gregory Ulhmann, Matt Carroll, and Clark Sommers

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Hungry Ghost by the Typical Sisters
The cover of Hungry Ghost by the Typical Sisters

Six minutes into “The Comeback Kid,” the third track on Hungry Ghost, the music takes a surprising turn. Typical Sisters, a trio of non-related gents, has been working on a languid tune, taking their time as they borrow from the book of Bill Frisell. Gregory Ulhmann plays guitar with a bright, clear tone and warm reverb. When things appear to be moving toward a natural fade, the group shifts into a dissonant bass riff and guitars start appearing at weird angles. Some drone and some scrape, as if Marc Ribot had interrupted the session. Like the title implies, it changes the game. Whereas the earlier section initially seemed charming but a bit mild, now it seems like a clever element in a bigger piece. If only Hungry Ghost had more of that.

Typical Sisters reside in a Venn diagram where instrumental indie rock, ECM guitar jazz, and players like Ribot and Frisell overlap. Uhlmann’s guitar is the focus, often saying a lot with simple lines. On the title track, drummer Matt Carroll provides a galloping beat that pushes it along. His trip-hop beat on “To the Landing” also adds momentum, in part because the location of the downbeat initially sounds elusive. Throughout the album, producer Tim Kerr adds electronic effects, practically creating a ghost member of the band. After frontloading the album with the best of all these characteristics, the band starts sounding repetitive during the second half. Carroll and bassist Clark Sommers stick with grooves while Uhlmann contemplates his next move at a pace that feels too leisurely. “Goner” picks up the mood, with a guitar that sounds like it’s underwater, and some more heavy-handed beats. But tracks like the closing “Young and Foolish” meander along quietly until finally petering out.

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Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.