Maps don’t always tell the whole story. No doubt you’ve seen images of dots and colors filling the country to show the incidence of Covid-19. But maps don’t reveal all of its ripple effects. If you see Kansas City, you might not know that all of the Mastersons tour merch is stuck there in a warehouse.
By now Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson should be at shows to accompany their new album No Time For Love Songs. Instead, the couple finds themselves stuck in their Los Angeles apartment staring at a computer screen where they hosted their record release.
“I wish I could see you,” Chris Masterson said coming out of “Eyes Wide Open,” lamenting his wish to be out playing in bars. The pandemic kept the married duo sequestered but it couldn’t diminish the beautiful harmonies that rose from the small room.
“I know these are troubling times,” the duo sang. Masterson began with chords that borrowed from the Beatles “I Want to Tell You” and ended in a flashback to another era in Los Angeles. “That’s a homage to the Byrds there,” he pointed out.
Despite the cabin fever, the duo who have long been part of Steve Earle’s band the Dukes, seemed to take quarantining in stride. Introducing “This is a Song to Sing,” Chris notes how it had been written on another couch in the apartment.
“There’s always bad things going on,” he philosophized. But there’s always life and joy. We just have to find it.”
Within the grooves of the new record are tales of the loss and despair the couple felt losing several close friends. Whitmore introduced “The Last Laugh” about singer-songwriter Chris Porter whom she called one of the funniest people. “He still keeps me laughing and he would have had a lot to say about what’s going on now.”
“The Silver Line” is a tribute to George Reiff, the bassist on their first three records who passed from a battle with cancer. Whitmore wrote it and put it away, thinking it was lost. Late one night she found it on her phone and realized it fit with the emerging album’s mood and demeanor. She called producer Shooter Jennings who loved it.
A few weeks before the Facebook album premier, the couple had stopped by Buddy Miller’s home studio where he hosts his weekly radio show with Jim Lauderdale on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. The conversation turned to Kelly Looney’s passing, the bassist whom the Mastersons shared the stage with over eleven years with Steve Earle and the Dukes.
“I lost my two favorite bass players and some of my favorite people,” Whitmore said with resignation. “The Last Laugh” could have been written about Kelly. He kept us in stitches and always took the tension out of the room. He was such a great ambassador to the cities where we played.””
There was an intimacy in the Mastersons’ living room, influenced by the need to stay within the camera frame but perhaps more by the stories of those lost along the way. This included Chris’ father Kirk who passed away around the time of their second album and is the inspiration for “King of the Castle.” Hanging out with friend Rosie Flores, Whitmore filed away an idea for a song when Flores revealed the loss of her father. She said it was like losing the king of the castle. Whitmore’s rueful keys made the point, played against the backdrop of Masterson’s acoustic guitar
As the couple moved through their new songs, they seemed like an old married couple. Whitmore checked for time at one point after “Pride of the Wicked.”. Masterson reminded her they had all the time in the world.
The show went past an hour and could have ended sooner but the couple kept adding songs.
Masterson picked up his Richenbacher again. He started singing the song “Walls” by Tom Petty. Their harmonies were glorious. The song has been covered through the ages most recently by LA compatriots the Long Ryders. The Mastersons seemed liked they had a rightful place on the Southern California continuum. With his shades and top hat, the guitarist bore a ghostly resemblance to Tom Petty.
Even if it was just for a few minutes, the transcendent song was instantly uplifting. With the weather getting better, it was hard not to think about Spring coming. There will be a new Steve Earle record coming in May. And it seemed like we could imagine live music resuming at some point, whenever that might be.
In the meantime the Mastersons will continue to do their part. Chris announced that he and Eleanor would be hosting an all request Monday and called for everyone to sip their wine. Then calculating the time difference, he decided it might be a bit early for the Mastersons to partake on the West Coast.
After all of the songs and banter, it was hard to forget something Masterson said that we were all thinking. “I hope we get to see our friends soon.”
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