ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And Im Melissa Block.
Today, a rare visit with two musical sisters: Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. Theyve each had long and acclaimed solo careers. But they've kept their musical lives separate. They haven't done joint interviews and theyve never toured together. Well, that changed this fall when they teamed up for a few intimate shows. They called it the Side by Side Tour.
(Soundbite of song, "Side by Side")
Ms. SHELBY LYNNE And Ms. ALLISON MOORER (Singers): (Singing) Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money. Maybe we're ragged and funny. But we travel along, singing our song, side by side...
BLOCK: Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer came by our studios to sing and to talk about their bond as sisters, through music and through childhood trauma.
Shelby is a few years older. She's got more Alabama still in her voice. The sisters say their tones blend so tightly, sometimes even they can't tell who's singing which part.
Ms. LYNNE And Ms. MOORER: (Singing) What if the sky should fall? Just as long as we're together, it really doesnt matter at all. Oh, though weve had the quarrels and parted, we'll be the same as we started, just travel along, singing our song, side by side.
BLOCK: That sounds so great. When would you have learned that song together?
Ms. MOORER: Hmm. I dont remember not knowing it.
Ms. LYNNE: Well, let me think. It would have to be when we started school because we lived a good 20 minute drive from where we lived to school. Mama sang and so the three of us in the car would sing three parts.
Ms. MOORER: We had an old car. The radio didnt work and so we sang.
Ms. LYNNE: That was a '68 Impala.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LYNNE: And, I mean, singing was just like breathing in her house. Our father was musical, as well, and loved, loved music. Always was looking for somewhere to go and play. So I think it's safe to say that our mother really taught us about singing and about harmonies and a lot of old, cool songs. But our father was the one who gave us the drive to go out and do it in front of people.
Ms. MOORER: Right.
Ms. LYNNE: And I think if it had not been for him doing that, then the chances of us both ending up doing this professionally would be less.
BLOCK: Which is interesting that it's taken you this long to come out on tour together.
Ms. LYNNE: Yeah, I was just going to the only strange part about is we're just getting around to doing it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Whats it like now when you're out on stage together?
Ms. LYNNE: Natural and feels like home. Great, we have fun. I mean, nobody knows me, it's just home. You know, we have a deep thing thats all siblings have. But, you know, we just - music is so important to us. And it's a communication tool. I mean, it's a way of being emotional without calling up and saying, hey, I'm going to be emotional right now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LYNNE: Instead, it's, hey, pick up the new record.
BLOCK: Would you pick up the phone and call each other and say, listen to what I've just written, Im going to play you a song?
Ms. LYNNE: Mm-hmm.
BLOCK: Or would you maybe send it in an email or something?
Ms. LYNNE: When I wrote "Easy in the Summertime," I called you. I think that was the last time I did that.
Ms. MOORER: Yeah, and I picked up the phone and called you because it's a true story.
Ms. LYNNE: Right.
Ms. MOORER: It's me taking a childhood memory that Shelby was right there for, and putting it in a song. And I wanted her to hear that I had done it.
BLOCK: When you did that song, "Easy in the Summertime" at the show here in Washington, Allison you were playing piano. Shelby, you were standing right behind her. And it was a really emotional moment, at least from the audience. I mean, there was a lot going in that song, I think.
Ms. LYNNE: Yeah. And I think that, you know, Allison and I have never been afraid to bare our souls when it comes to music, because we're so moved by music. And then, to be able to perform it and have the same emotion, that's powerful. So we don't have a problem doing that.
BLOCK: Could you play us "Easy in the Summertime"?
Ms. LYNNE: Yeah, absolutely.
(Soundbite of song, "Easy in the Summertime")
Ms. LYNNE and Ms. MOORER: (Singing) July nineteen eighty-one, Alabama summer sun. Sissy got a fishing pole. We went down to the honey hole. Greasy fiery frying pan, Viola grabbed it with her hand. It burned so bad, her skin it peeled. There I saw the truth revealed. Watermelon tastes so good, bare feet on the cool hardwood. Summer dresses Nanny made and cut off blue jeans torn and frayed. Swinging on the barnyard gate, it don't get dark till after eight. Run inside a kiss and hug, wrapped up in my mama's love. Easy in the summertime. Easy in the summertime. Easy in the summertime. Easy in the summertime. Firefly whispered in my ear. She said let's get out of here. Fly down to the creek with me, there's something you got to see. The stars come out and glow so bright, that's why I don't mess with morning light. They're the ones that soothe my soul. They make me want to rock 'n roll. Easy in the summertime. Easy in the summertime. Easy in the summertime.
BLOCK: Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer.
In that song, Shelby, you are a firefly. You become a firefly in that song.
Ms. LYNNE: Yeah, and I didnt know that. I wasnt aware that I was the firefly. So that makes even more killer.
Ms. MOORER: That song is really special to me because I feel like I sort of grew up as a writer, when I finally wrote that. You know, I've called it recovery in three verses. The first part is what actually happened. The second verse is what I want to remember. And the third verse is how we survived it.
And our parents aren't with us anymore, so what we have from that time is each other. And so the third verse is, you know, firefly whispered in my ear, she said let's get out of here. Thats where we are now.
Ms. LYNNE: Yeah.
Ms. MOORER: I've always probably been a little bit more of a practical-minded person than Shelby. But I have, at times in my life, depended on her to be my firefly and to be a little bit out of control.
Ms. LYNNE: More.
Ms. MOORER: She allows herself to be a much more visceral person than I sometimes do.
BLOCK: It's interesting to me that you say that, Allison, because you have written several songs that I think very directly deal with the death of your parents. Your dad shot and killed your mom and then killed himself when you were both teenagers. And you have a bunch of songs where you talk quite clearly about that chapter.
And Shelby, I don't think you've taken that on in your music in quite the same way. Am I right?
Ms. LYNNE: I've written some songs, but I think that they're going to show themselves on the record, our record.
BLOCK: The album you want to do together?
Ms. LYNNE: Yeah. You know, I think that my thing is that I just never did want people to think that I'm sad. And it's just, I've never wanted my story to be the thing. And, you know, it's been a hurdle to keep it at bay. But it's definitely there, and a part of it.
And, you know, I'm 42 years old now. I mean, this happened so long ago, and, you know, it shapes who you are, your childhood, but, you know, it's certainly something that I'm at peace with. And I don't want to use therapy in my music. That's just me.
BLOCK: Yeah, and Allison, do you come at it from a different direction, do you think?
Ms. MOORER: I'm just writing what it's my job to write.
Ms. LYNNE: Right. We just don't even think about it, really.
Ms. MOORER: I don't want to bore anyone with journal entries, that's for sure. But the job is to write what you know, and that's part of what I know. That's part of who I am. That's part of my experience, and I see no reason to hide it or shroud it.
BLOCK: You closed the show that I saw here in Washington with a song that I had to look up to figure out what it was. It's from "The Color Purple" - "Miss Celie's Blues." But it's sort of - it's about sisters, and I wonder if you could do that for us.
Ms. LYNNE and Ms. MOORER: (Singing) Sister, you've been on my mind. Oh, sister, we're two of a kind. So sister, I'm keeping my eyes on you. I bet you think I don't know nothin' but singin' the blues. Oh, sister, have I got news for you. I'm somethin'. I hope you think that you're somethin', too.
Ms. LYNNE: See, that line is so important to me because we've always wanted the best for each other. And, I mean, Sissy and I really feel words and melodies. And we're just music. We're so lucky that we have each other to sing with.
BLOCK: Well, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, thanks so much for coming in and playing for us today.
Ms. LYNNE: Thank you so much for having us.
Ms. MOORER: Thanks for having us.
BLOCK: And you can hear more live performance from sisters Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne, including a song from Shelby's new Christmas album, at nprmusic.org. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.