AT A MIDWINTER show in the cozy confines of SE Clinton Street’s Press Club, Rachel Taylor Brown holds the room rapt, her auburn locks falling over the keyboard as she sings. Her bearded bandmates chime in with lower vocals—but a mysterious high note hangs almost imperceptibly in the still, dark air. Ears perk, heads turn, and several eyes finally find the source: another redhead sits at the back of the room, evenly, effortlessly suspending the ghostly tone.
Arts insiders might recognize the harmonist as Katie Taylor, a veteran of the quirky Opera Theater Oregon (OTO) who was recently promoted to producing artistic director. But to the lead vocalist, it’s just her kid sister. A few weeks later, over Sunday brunch, they display another version of siblinghood, punctuating each other’s stories with effortless entwining of hands and testimonies of support. And as Katie pitches in with backing vocals, the sisters will commit a little of their family bond to an album (Rachel’s seventh), World So Sweet, set for a May release.
Their duet hasn’t always taken the form of song. As the youngest kids in a seven-sibling family from Boring, the sisters faced their brother Jeff’s untimely death from brain cancer, and as adults stood shoulder to shoulder through revelations of childhood abuse. But through much of their nearly four decades together, they also have made music.
"I’m just getting out what’s in my head."—Rachel Taylor Brown
Rachel’s piano-and-vox-driven songs still hint at the long-lapsed dramas of their youth, with elements that are at turns tense, tragic, and gorgeously embellished with religious and literary imagery—and yet somehow still catchy. Her classical-yet-edgy sensibilities on albums like Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister (2009) and Ormolu (2006) have earned accolades from NPR, even as they receive frequent nods from niche fan blogs like Absolute Punk, which calls her music “daring, fearless and chilling”—no small compliment from the punk-rock camp.