“My Heart Is in the Wrong Place speaks of the anxiety and turmoil so many have been going through and shows how the voices combine to find every ounce of emotion in the lyrics.”
Something special can happen when siblings sing together. Some of the greatest recordings come from that: The Staple Singers, The Jacksons, Don and Phil Everly, the Gibbs in the Bee Gees, the Wilson brothers in the Beach Boys.
To the listener they make the combination seem effortless, although there is really no such thing in music. Sure, siblings get a big head start on most people in bands, singing together growing up, but that thing about sounding like they were born to do this together? We don’t see the work that goes in to making it seem so.
In Australia, the Mills Sisters took their music from the Torres Strait to the world. But no one has done it better for longer or reached as many people as Vika and Linda Bull, the sisters with Tongan heritage most of us first heard on a string of classic albums as backing singers with Joe Camilleri in The Black Sorrows.
They sang on many other records too, from John Farnham to Archie Roach, and for many years now in Paul Kelly’s band, where they sometimes step forward to take the main vocal on songs on Kelly albums. And they have released albums as Vika and Linda since 1994’s self-titled, Kelly-produced debut.
Now, when so many Australian artists are battling to pay the rent let alone keep their careers going, the sisters have hit a new creative high. Last year they finally topped the charts with their anthology album Akilotoa. That was followed by an album of gospel songs, Sunday (The Gospel According to Iso), which went to No 2. And now The Wait, an album of new material written by some of Australia’s finest songwriters, might just go one better than Sunday. It deserves to.
This is an album that shows the sisters have absorbed something from bandleaders Kelly and Camilleri, who know the value of a pinch of surprise and a big cup of variety in keeping careers rolling.
One thing you mightn’t expect from The Wait: in places it rocks like crazy. It leaps from the speakers like a dam bursting, which is how it must have felt since the sisters started collecting these songs in 2017 then Covid pushed back the date for recording.
When they were finally able to convene in the studio with their band in April, 12 songs poured out in eight days. When so many albums in the digital age can feel carefully layered and smoothly finished, The Wait is a grittier affair. You can’t miss the joy that went into the making of it.
Sure, there is gospel fire (Don Walker’s I Miss You in the Night) and country-soul (Bernard Fanning’s Like a Landslide, with Vika taking the lead), and an aching tune with a folky flavour (Glenn Richards’ Not the Same Girl, sung by Linda).
But as with all the great sibling teams, it’s not so much about who takes the main melody as the force of the voices together.
The album begins with Raise Your Hand, an anthem written by Kasey Chambers and Brandon Dodd, with Linda on the lead and the sisters singing in unison, “I won’t back down/This is my world now”. You don’t doubt it for a second.
My Heart Is in the Wrong Place speaks of the anxiety and turmoil so many have been going through in these times, and not just in the arts. Vika takes the main melody, Linda is right with her. It shows how the voices combine to find all the emotion in lyrics like these:
Sometimes it feels like my heart is in the wrong place
Feels like I’m running in the wrong race
Sometimes I feel like such a waste of space
My dreams are running away …
At one time Ben Salter might have been Australia’s most under-rated great songwriter, an impression he has corrected through a series of quality albums. You won’t be in any doubt about which shelf he is operating on after you’ve heard Vika and Linda sing My Heart is in the Wrong Place.
On Since You’re Gone, written by Neil Murray and Matt Walker, there is a New Orleans kind of groove under Naylor’s stinging slide guitar (joined by You Am I’s Davey Lane on second electric) as the sisters lock in as one. There is a swagger to Glenn Richards’ Pigface and Calendula that’s somewhere between The Faces and the Rolling Stones. Lover Don’t Keep Me Waiting (by The Living End’s Chris Cheney) is equally urgent.
Elsewhere there are fine tunes by a young songwriter, Eva Seymour, and a veteran, Mick Thomas (Hand Grenade, a co-write with Jemma Rowlands), and the album closes with the Kelly tune The Long View adding a pinch of mystery to the ingredients.
All of it is great but if you check out My Heart Is in the Wrong Place you’ll get the picture: there is a lot of heart, soul – and hope too — in what Vika and Linda have cooked up here. Mood elevation is guaranteed.
The Wait, Bloodlines/Mushroom, is released on September 17.