Founded in 2011 by brothers Alex and Palmer Shah—two Milwaukee transplants of debatable attractiveness from Green Bay—Ugly Brothers kept its original emo-meets-Delta-blues output confined to house shows and Riverwest open mics for two years. Last year, the sibling duo took on more members and, as a result, the band was invigorated and saw its sound being gussied up considerably—falling squarely into the neighborhood of folk. With bassist Alex Heaton, cellist Jenna Pepitone, violinist Anna Zaleski, and drummer Jay Joslyn adopted into the Shah family band, Ugly Brothers have swiftly become a fixture at almost every local festival (and a non-local one). Along the way, the band has somehow managed to find the time to tour and record an EP with Andrew Jambura (Sat. Nite Duets) at his Throwback Lounge Recording Co.
That eponymous debut EP is a brief but thorough four-song introduction to the young band’s inarguable versatility. Opener “Vanishing Act” touts little brother/guitarist Alex’s formidable pipes, as he spouts poetic lyrics that are rife in biblical references. Big bro Palmer (on banjo) leads an upbeat, almost vaudevillian dismantling of the Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-gay stance in “Topeka.” Understated cuts “Postcards” and “Caroline” showcase Ugly Brothers’ range and maturity. Impressive musicianship and sage lyrics are enhanced by outstanding harmonies—which occasionally find all six members simultaneously singing.
As sturdy of a salutation as this release is, Ugly Brothers have many great things on the way. They’ve been showing audiences all around town as much throughout the summer. However, after this weekend, you’ll have to wait to hear it. Following Friday’s show, Ugly Brothers is taking a brief hiatus to record a full-length this winter, and focus on neglected side projects. Alex Shah says the release show will likely be the band’s last full band performance until spring. So if you want to see Ugly Brothers this year, don’t miss this show. In the meantime, stream the EP now, only at Milwaukee Record.
Ugly Brothers will release its self-titled EP Friday, August 29 at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. Grasping At Straws and D’Amato open. The show begins at 9 p.m. and costs $5 ($8 with EP).