The Mastersons' previous album was full of stories about broken characters on the run during trying times, but true to its title the new "Good Luck Charm" finds some warmth and radiance in the aftermath of that recording. The album repeatedly touches on themes of connectivity, fitting since singer/guitarist Chris Masterson and multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Whitmoreare married.
"There comes a time where, well, you can't keep writing the same song over and over," Masterson says. "So we ended up writing a couple of love songs. It was tough, we sort of avoided the fact that we were married and in a band together and we worried about it getting too ."
". lovey dovey," Whitemore finishes.
"Lovey dove," Masterson says. "We were omitting part of our story. Relationships seem like such low-hanging fruit. But it's part of our story. So we had a riff and started throwing lines around. And after an hour we had a nice airy and light pop song. We found ourselves kind of high-fiving each other."
"Nailed it," says Whitmore.
While the sound of "Good Luck Charm" has a sunnier tilt, the rudiments of the duo's interaction remain in place. The harmonies are fluid and gorgeous, and the division of lead vocals feels natural. The instrumentation is impeccably played and efficient. Both Mastersons can peel off virtuosic solos, yet the playing on their records is efficient and restrained. The songs are rootsy but with a power-pop push.
Whitmore and Masterson's collaboration extends beyond their reinvention as a duo. Masterson is a Houston native, who started as a teenage guitar hotshot playing blues at local blues clubs and eventually took work as guitarist for Jack Ingram and Son Volt. Whitmore is from Denton and can dazzle on just about any stringed instrument. She and her sister Bonnie Whitmore began playing with their father as kids. Masterson produced Whitmore's lovely 2008 album "Airplanes." The two left Texas for New York and started the Mastersons. Finding time for the band has proved a challenge as both are full-time members of singer-songwriter Steve Earle's band, The Dukes. Last Thursday they were in town playing with Earle. This weekend they return to play for the release of "Good Luck Charm," parts of which were conceived "when we could steal away time between shows," Whitmore says.
Both Mastersons say the new album is the result of more symbiotic interplay than "Birds Fly South," on which each member brought individual songs to the table. Both Masterson and Whitmore said band mates would sometimes stare slack jawed at some of the critiques they felt comfortable slinging at one another last time around.
"I think we're getting better at throwing ideas back and forth and not taking anything too personally," Whitmore says. "I remember the first time we worked together, I said something pretty out of line."
"I had to leave the house, and she went around the neighborhood looking for me," Masterson says.
"We've grown up since then," Whitmore says, laughing. "It can be hard to separate the working relationship from your other relationship, but it's getting easier for us."
"Because it's writing songs, it's not as simple as just finishing each others sentences like other married couples," Mastersons says. "But I'll come up with a line and she'll say, 'Great,' and maybe she'll change one word. And I'll think, '(Expletive) that's much better. I think there's been a evolution from 'Birds' to how we collaborate now."
That sense of shared experience informs the new record. Lines jump out of the record that suggest people finding ways to connect rather than pushing each other apart.
Sure the album begins with the title track's opening line "don't it make you sad," but even those words are informed by a need to relate. The song was written when the two returned to Austin from New York and found themselves in the company of old friends, all following the news of gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis' famed filibuster to block new abortion restrictions in Texas.
"The song wasn't meant to be polarizing," Whitmore says, "but it was meant to be galvanizing. To remind people that we can talk to each other."
On another, "Cautionary Tale," Whitmore sings "we don't talk much these days" as a plaintive request to fix broken lines of communication.
"The last record had that broken character theme, and we were a little tired of it," Whitmore says. "So we wanted to explore some other ideas. We're both annoyed at how much time we spend on cell phones. We've taken them out of our bedroom."
"We leave them in the car when we go to dinner," Masterson says.
"It's remarkable how quickly they can hijack a day," says Whitmore. "It's just another thing standing in the way of our ability to connect."