Have the Time of Your Life: Go See Heart Bones


There’s a lot to love about Heart Bones.

First you have Sabrina Ellis, the front woman of Austin bands A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit, who is known just as much for her powerhouse vocals as her steamy stage presence.

Then you have Sean Tillman aka Har Mar Superstar, the Midwestern soul man with a fondness for over-the-top showmanship and a breathtaking falsetto.

Put these two singers together, back them up with the amazing Har Mar Superstar band and you have a brand new collaboration: Heart Bones.

Sabrina Ellis and Sean Tillman’s resulting project is a brooding mix of synth-pop and melodramatic indie rock gold.

As if that weren’t enough, the duo has done something interesting to share their collaboration with the world: Heart Bones is on tour performing songs from the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack, as well as their own material.

In a way, this makes a lot of sense.

Photo By:  Matt Ramsey

Photo By: Matt Ramsey

Here’s the story:

Heart Bones began when the two singers met on tour in 2016.

After seeing a kindred spirit in the other, Ellis and Tillman decided to get together and collaborate.

And as they began to write together, the two found shared inspiration in the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

That’s when it hit them:

Why not go on tour and perform the songs of Dirty Dancing along with their originals?

So what started as a performance concept resulted in a cool new way of sharing their music with the world.

I was lucky enough to see the resulting performance at the sold out 3TEN Club on December 29th.

When you see Heart Bones perform, the strength of the group is immediately obvious:

As career front-people, both singers know exactly how to get an audience excited.

Between their strong harmonies, coordinated dance moves and the fantastic Har Mar Superstar backing band, Heart Bones played a wide array of songs with signature indie-soul punch.

Ranging from 60s hits to 80s schtick, the duo sang each song from the soundtrack flawlessly, often switching the male and female parts just for the fun of it.

By the time they launched into the Ronette’s 1964 chart topper “Be My Baby”, Heart Bones was in full force.

Soon, the duo was trading verses in Eric Carmen’s 1987 hit “Hungry Eyes” and mirroring each other’s dance moves.

With that much talent on stage, you’d think there might not be enough room the each vocalist to shine.

But they did.

Sean Tillman’s powerful falsetto was on full display in their rendition of Maurice Williams and the Zodiac’s 1960 pop hit “Stay”. And Sabrina Ellis’ performance of Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” aligned perfectly with her stage presence and indie rock voice.

As a voice teacher, I can tell you that a performance this good only happens when you have vocalists who know exactly what they’re doing and have spent a lot of time learning how to sing.

And with all the amazing Dirty Dancing hits, it would be easy to overlook the strength of Heart Bones’ originals.

But that would be a mistake.

Halfway through the set, Ellis and Tillman began singing the songs they had crafted together.

These Heart Bones originals were a groovy mix of modern synth-pop and indie rock.

And here’s the most exciting part:

Heart Bones allows these singers to do something totally different from anything we’ve seen in their previous groups.

For instance, the rollicking “Disappear” showcases Sabrina’s voice at a higher vocal range than you’d hear in A Giant Dog or Sweet Spirit song.

Photo By:  Matt Ramsey

Photo By: Matt Ramsey

You might even confuse her produced pop vocals with an Ariana Grande song.

But Sabrina steps up to the demands of this new genre and sounds amazing.

Sean Tillman’s beautiful tenor voice is also crystal clear in “Little Dancer”, a brooding synth groove with a big resolution in the chorus exclaiming: “Baby, I could be your little dancer!”

And it’s here that Tillman really shines as a vocalist.

He has such a high voice type that his singing is naturally more resonant the higher he goes.

This Time It’s Different”, the bouncy, rocking duet with a funky bass riff is currently the #1 rated song on the artist’s Spotify page.

After they take turns singing verses, it’s easy to see why:

The two harmonize in the chorus, singing:

I’ll stop the pain

I’ll mend what’s broken

So we’ll start again

Over and over again until we go insane

But this time it’s different

Once you’ve listened to the tracks, it’s obvious:

Every song is a tribute to each vocalist’s individual strengths.

But the truth is it would be easy for these originals to get overshadowed by the nostalgia of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

Actually, that may be intentional:

After all, Heart Bones’ decision to perform the songs from Dirty Dancing was a sure fire way to get an audience.

But the difference between a cover band and Heart Bones is that you get the bonus of hearing their amazing original songs.

We may be witnessing a bold new way to market your new music: bring in an audience with something they’ll love, then sneak in something brand new.

And this strategy may be working.

As I mentioned, the club was sold out.

People looking for a fun New Year’s activity flocked to see the songs of Dirty Dancing.

And the performance showcased the band’s ability to breathe new life into covers, and still create something of their own.

As the evening came to an end, Heart Bones closed with the soundtrack favorite: “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” originally recorded by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

This seemed like the perfect ending to a great night: two friends having the time of their lives, making and performing great music together.

And I can’t wait to hear more.

Photo By:  Matt Ramsey

Photo By: Matt Ramsey

Matt Ramsey is a blogger and vocal coach at Ramsey Voice Studio.