There’s no doubt about it: Social and political climates are shifting, and the voices of strong women are not only rising to the occasion, they’re at the forefront of the action. Laurie and Katelyn Shook, identical twin sisters and the creative minds behind the soulful folk pop of Shook Twins, are brave leaders in this force. Come February, their graceful harmonies will echo across Portland on their new album Some Good Lives. The album’s message holds a particularly uplifting juxtaposition to the current climate of resistance; it’s one of recognition, most eloquently stated in “Vessels”: “It’s a good thing we are here at the same time.”
The album opens with an ode to the revolutionary Bernie Sanders, celebrated with funky guitar riffs and groovy horns that irresistibly get you out of your seat. Voices stream through a telephone-turned-microphone to give a hauntingly contemplative feel to songs like “Figure It Out” (featuring Gregory Alan Isakov—listen below) and “Vessels,” a song written for their best friend, Travis Dickson, who is on the winning side of a brain tumor. Poppy beats are sprinkled throughout songs like “WantLove,” a dedication to Katelyn’s partner, Kyle, and “Talkie Walkie,” written by bandmate Niko Slice with recognition for his father as he maneuvers through the loss of his wife. Piano interludes thread the songs together, played by the Shook’s grandfather, Vernon, recorded in his final months of life in 1992, while the album closes with the call-and-response singalong “Dog Beach,” a three-decade-old recording made by their dearly departed godfather, Ted Bowers.
That’s right. This album, written by two of Portland’s strongest female leaders, is very much so inspired by men—and features art painted by their dad (just as he’s done for each one of their records). The fight for women, of women and by women to take their rightful place in society is not a novel battle. In an age of #MeToo, however, we are riding in on a wave of anger to take the movement to the next level. The days of a knight in shining armor are over. Women are standing their ground and demanding the right to equal opportunity, which has been banned from us for centuries. For any movement to be a lasting success, though, we must maintain a balanced vision.
“Now I feel it, the pace of my heart it quickens, I don’t know myself in the dark, but I still know about the sun,” the Shooks sing on “No Choice.”
As we tread through unknown territories, it’s important to remember that not all men are responsible for the ill distribution of power in patriarchy. Change requires participation, from all shapes, sizes, leanings and labels. It’s our job as leaders of this change to never skip the first step: observation. We must develop the patience to differentiate between toxic masculinity and the men in our lives who “nurture us” and “have helped us grow,” they write in the album’s liner notes.
This theme was not preconceived and nearly caught the sisters by surprise, they go on to explain:
“At first we didn’t receive it fully because we’ve been more focused on women as a crucial force for change and balance in the world at this time, in contrast to some terrible men making many terrible mistakes. It’s a strange time to be alive, and a very powerful time to be a woman. With all of that said, it’s been important for us to honor the wonderful, respectful men that have surrounded us our entire lives as well.”
The twins (vocals, banjo, guitar), Slice (guitar, mandolin), Barra Brown (drums), and Sydney Nash (bass) recorded 14 tracks in friends’ living rooms and at SE Portland’s The Hallowed Halls, where Justin Phelps worked his engineering magic. Bart Budwig’s mixing expertise and his “vast knowledge of how to create a cohesive sound that drapes over all the songs,” Katelyn Shook explains, allowed Shook Twins to incorporate a variety of vibey sounds with various instruments, including Budwig’s own contributions on the trumpet. Through collaboration with bandmates and other guests—like Gregory Alan Isakov (keyboard, electric guitar), Kurt Hamilton (sax), John Whaley (trumpet), and Justin Landis on FunMachine (organ synthesizer)—the twins realized their potential to go beyond folk pop and explore more soulful, psychedelic sounds.
We are no longer on the brink of change; we are in the thick of it and we need all hands on deck. To the mothers who birthed and raised the revolution, to the storytellers and the musicians who share the narratives, to the women who resist and rise, and to the men who stand with them, keep living good lives.