Tag Archives: Girlgroup

Whitney Rose: Rule 62

Country, soul and girl group blossom under Rose’s command

With her friend and mentor Raul Malo co-producing, and a studio band drawn from the Mavericks, Jayhawks and Asleep at the Wheel, Canadian-born, Austin-based Whitney Rose doubles up on the retro country pop highlighted on 2015’s Heartbreaker of the Year. Across nine originals, and covers of “Tied to the Wheel” and “You’re a Mess,” Rose plugs into ‘70s country vibes, girl group sounds and, on “Can’t Stop Shakin’,” a deep soul groove. There’s an echo of Danny O’Keefe’s “Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues” in the downbeat mood of “You Never Cross My Mind,” and the rolling rhythm of the bittersweet “Trucker’s Funeral” suggests John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”

Rose is decisive as she leaves behind the wreckage of failed romances, and definitively cuts the ties that bind. She leaves without anger, and though hardened by experience, the emotional toll still leaves her numb, and on the Brill Building-worthy “Better to My Baby,” remorseful. Malo pops up throughout the album, singing harmony on “You Don’t Scare Me” and adding terrific guitar leads along with ace Kenny Vaughn. Malo and co-producer Niko Bolas showcase Rose’s vocal charms while also giving the musicians and songs room to shine. Chris Scruggs’ steel, Aaron Till’s fiddle and Jen Gunderman’s piano and organ are perfectly staged, and Rose is commanding as she eases herself into songs whose classic tones belie their originality. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

Sunshine and the Rain: In the Darkness of My Night

As if Kim Wilde fronted the Jesus and Mary Chain

When a group describes themselves as a “bombastic and chaotic” spin on girl group sounds, you’re probably in for an adrenaline-charged good time. Imagine if Kim Wilde had fronted a version of the Ramones that had been inspired by The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “f’d up distorted sound.” Ashley Morey sings with a tart sweetness that’s sublimely at odds with her overdriven bass, husband Justin’s buzzing guitars and their pummeling drum machine. Her voice floats in a pop bubble above the sonic fray, with Beach Boys-styled harmonies and chimes seeming almost dissonant against the distorted backings and shouted asides.

What’s really appealing, besides melodic hooks that burrow deep into your ear, is the combination of aggression and vulnerability that drives many of the songs. Morey creates an emotional quiet/loud dynamic as she mates the imperious power of Mary Weiss to the vulnerability of Feargal Sharkey, producing the sense of someone who’s confident but not wholly sure. She’s bloodied by romantic wreckage, but damn well isn’t going to bleed out, and even the relatively tender “So Far So Close” is colored by thrumming bass and a distorted edge on the vocals.

The obsessive desire of “Little Rag Doll” is endearing and maybe a bit scary, depending on whether it’s a private thought written into a diary or a love letter shoved into someone’s locker. There are moments of less harrowing desire, such as the hopeful realization of “Come On Baby,” but much of the album’s romance is seen in postmortem hangover as Morey wrestles with lingering attachments and emerging feelings of righteous anger. A cover of Fugazi’s “Merchandise” retains its urgency amid the duo’s electric hum, but it’s the girlgroup hooks and baion beats that really give this record its power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Sunshine and the Rain’s Bandcamp Page

The Heaters: American Dream – The Portastudio Recordings

Heaters_AmericanDreamLos Angeles new wave band turns to girl group sounds in 1983

“The Heaters” is a popular band name. There was a Danish garage rock band, a Seattle quartet (who shortened their name to the Heats), a UK power pop band, a punk band, a reggae group, a funk band, a Los Angeles new wave band that recorded for Ariola and Columbia, and more recently, a trio from Grand Rapids. This Heaters is the Los Angeles group, one that felt their studio albums never really captured their sound. In frustration, they recorded themselves on a 4-track TASCAM Portastudio – home multitrack technology that’s commonplace today, but not so in 1983 – and doubled down on the nostalgic elements of their earlier works. In particular, the core creative trio of Mercy, Maggy and Missie wrote and recorded original, 60s-influenced girl group music.

The tapes were offered to Rhino, but the label heard them as demos rather than finished product, and the group declined to re-record. Released more than 30 years later, you can hear both the label and group’s points of view. Wary of their previous experience with record companies, studios and producers, the group chose to protect the fidelity of their art. What the label likely heard was a tension between the group’s ideas of grandly imagined pop and the realities of producing yourself for the first time on a 4-track cassette. What Rhino failed to hear, or perhaps wasn’t interested in, was the group’s tuneful fusion of a DIY aesthetic with a deep appreciation for 1960s craft. Others (e.g., Denny Ward) had successfully explored this pairing on indie releases, leaving one to wonder why the Heaters didn’t do the same.

What’s comes through loud and clear on these tapes is the siren’s call of the Blossoms, Crystals, Ronettes, Shirelles, Shangri-Las, Marvelettes and others. Several of the songs, including the beautifully crooned “Every Living Day,” could pass for vintage if their 1980s origins weren’t tipped by the guitars. The album’s centerpiece, “10,000 Roses,” borrows the iconic drumbeat of “Be My Baby,” and though its melody, lyric and vocal would have made the Brill Building proud, it’s slightly ragged mix is probably what Rhino thought could be tweaked. Still, even with the “oom-mow-mow” backing vocal popping out of the pocket, you can’t help but be charmed by the song and its Spanish-flavored acoustic guitar solo.

Many of the songs would have been at home in the early-60s, but the theme gets modern with “Sandy.” The song’s baion beat and stagey vocal might suggest inspiration from West Side Story or Grease, but the gender confusion at the lyric’s heart would have raised eyebrows in 1963. The girl group focus slips a bit more as “Rock This Place” moves into the 1970s, and elsewhere there’s a muscular rock sound akin to Robin Lane and Ellen Foley. These steps outside the narrow lane of the 1960s propels the album beyond an exercise in nostalgia, and fills out the group’s reach. This may not have been right for Rhino, but Bomp should have picked it up. Thirty-three years is too long to have waited to hear this, but better late than never. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Heaters’ Home Page

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes: Charlie Faye & The Fayettes

CharlieFayeAndTheFayettes_STAustin singer-songwriter dives into early ‘60s girl-group sound

If the 1960s Playtone label wasn’t a fictional construct of That Thing You Do, the label’s A&R rep would surely have signed Charlie Faye. Her spin on soul-tinged girl-group pop echoes the pastiches of Diane Dane and the Chantrellines, and in turn tips a hat to the sources from which the film drew. Faye’s soulful roots can be heard in 2013’s You Were Fine, You Weren’t Even Lonely, but the complicated, contemporary posture of that outing is shed as she and the Fayettes explore the romantic travails of the early ‘60s. Faye’s traded her solo spotlight and singer-songwriter stool for vintage party dresses and harmony singers.

A New York native, there’s Bacharach-like sophistication in the melody of “Carelessly,” but her adopted Austin surfaces in the twang of “Loving Names.” The soul sound moves further south with the fluid bass line and Memphis-styled guitar of “Sweet Little Messages.” Faye’s songs are filled with the sort of elemental heartbreak that made the Brill Building famous and its songs so memorable. On the surface, this might seem pedestrian compared to the complex emotions of You Were Fine, but writing 100 universally affecting words is often more difficult than writing 1,000 that are more specific and personal.

Faye’s struck a rich vein of new love, broken hearts and second chances – the sort whose first discovery feels like the end of the world, and whose repetition turns out to be the harder lesson. “Coming Round the Bend” borrows the signature riff and optimistic flash of “Then He Kissed Me,” and the bouncy “Delayed Reaction” nods to Jackie DeShannon’s “Breakaway.” The album stretches beyond the coy boundaries of ‘60s girl groups with the opener “Green Light,” and though “Eastside” could usher dancers down a Soul Train line, its Stax-styled groove and horn chart service a serious look at social gentrification.

Faye’s previous albums didn’t exactly draw a line to this retro set, but the surprise is more in the landing spot than the journey. Faye’s repeatedly proved herself an adventurous artist who is committed to her muse. Her 2009 debut, Wilson Street, honored the Austin community into which she’d knit herself, and 2011’s Travels With Charlie was recorded over ten months of collaboration with artists in ten different cities. She follows her artistic desire, and when that led to the girl-group sound, she banded together with BettySoo and Akina Adderley, wrote a terrific batch of 60s-tinged originals, drew up some choreography, and dove in head first. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Charlie Faye and the Fayettes’ Home Page

Queen of Jeans: EP

This Philadelphia quartet’s first two tracks (“Dance (Get Off Your Ass)” and “Rollerdyke“) are now expanded with four additions into a eponymous EP, streamable below, downloadable from Bandcamp, and buyable as a vinyl 12″ from Third Uncle. The new songs are just as mesmerizing in their nods to 1960s girl groups and lush 1990s alternatives run through a dreamy DIY psych aesthetic. Great stuff!

And while you’re here, check out their live set for WXPN:

Queen of Jeans: Rollerdyke

This Philadelphia quartet’s first single sounded like something you’d have heard on Girls in the Garage or perhaps from the Pussywillows, or the Bangs before they became the Bangles. The group’s second single moves from the garage to the ballroom with a flowing neo-psych sound and a driving beat. Their debut EP is slated for January 22!

Queen of Jeans’ Facebook Page

Holly Golightly: Slowtown Now!

HollyGolightly_FastTrackToSlowtownHolly Golightly returns to her retro UK roots

Though it’s been more than a decade since she waxed an album with a rock ‘n’ roll band, Holly Golightly has been active with her clanking, ramshackle country blues duo Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs. Her new LP reunites her with her UK mates – Ed Deegan, Bradley Burgess, Matt Radford and Bruce Brand – and picks up where they left off, with kittenish jazz (“Frozen in Time” and “Empty Space”), sultry rock ‘n’ roll (“Seven Wonders” and “As You Go Down”) and a terrific cover of Barbara Acklin’s “Fool Fool Fool (Look in the Mirror).” Throughout the album, the guitars buzz and snake, the double bass adds deep tone, and Golightly multiples herself into a one-woman girl group.

The band finds its deepest grooves on mid-tempo struts like “What You See,” with Golightly exhibiting a simmering indifference that’s mesmerizing. You’ll catch a hint of the Shangri-Las’ on “As You Go Down,” with Golightly’s monotone providing a cool contrast to the band’s “Sophisticated Boom Boom” groove. Everyone is so fully locked in, that it’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since 2005’s My First Holly Golightly Album. The guitar leads are broken in, yet fresh (with a nice nod to the Shadows’ “Apache” on “Forevermore”) , and the rhythm section is casually tight. Fans will love this return to previous influences, and those who arrived via the Brokeoffs will enjoy Golightly’s other roots. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Holly Golightly’s Home Page

Whitney Rose: Hearbreaker of the Year

WhitneyRose_HeartbreakerOfTheYearSinger-songwriter dreams 50s twang and 60s pop with Raul Malo

Canadian singer-songwriter Whitney Rose found a kindred spirit in the Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Malo produced, added vocals, and brought along several of his bandmates to give Rose’s sophomore effort an eclectic pop-country feel. Rose shades more to the female vocalists of the 1960s than Malo’s operatic balladeering, but the slow-motion twang of the guitars works just as well on Rose’s originals as it does with the Mavericks. Her self-titled debut hinted at retro proclivities, but Malo and guitarist Nichol Robertson really lay on the atmosphere, and Rose blossoms amid tempos and backing vocals that amplify the romance of her material.

Even the upbeat numbers provide room for Rose to warble, and she tips a primary influence with a cover of the Ronettes “Be My Baby.” Interpreting one of the greatest pop singles of all time is a tricky proposition, but Rose and Malo make the song their own with a slower tempo that emphasizes the song’s ache over its iconic beat, and a duet arrangement that has Malo moving between lead, harmony, backing and counterpoint. Similarly, Rose’s cover of Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer” is turned from forlorn barroom misery to a wistful memory that won’t go away. Burke Carroll’s steel guitar provides a wonderful, somnolent coda to the latter, echoing Rose’s spellbound vocal.

The opening “Little Piece of You” is both a love song and a statement of musical purpose as Rose sings of crossing lines and open minds, and the arrangement uses rhythm and vocal nuances that echo country’s Nashville Sound. She writes cleverly, leaving the listener to decide if “My First Rodeo” is about a relationship, sex or a breakup. The same is true for “The Last Party,” whose forlorn emotion could be the result of a breakup or a more permanent end. The vocal waver and rising melody of “Only Just a Dream” reveals uncertainty, but Rose finally gives in with “Lasso,” turning her doubts into commitment.

Recorded in only four days, there was clearly a mind meld between Rose, Malo and the players, as the arrangements are deeply tied to the songs’ moods. There’s a bit of funk on “The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night” that recalls Jennie C. Riley’s “Back Side of Dallas” and Dolly Parton’s “Getting Happy.” The title track’s bass line and finger-snapping assurance suggest Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” but the song is actually a kiss-off, rather than an amatory celebration, and Drew Jurecka’s lush strings cradle Rose and Malo’s duet “Ain’t It Wise.” Released in Canada last April, this is getting a well-deserved worldwide push and some welcome stateside tour dates. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

Hypercast #4: In Memoriam 2014

A collection of music from some of the artists who passed away in 2014.

Arthur Smith Guitar Boogie
The Everly Brothers (Phil Everly) Made to Love
Lois Johnson Come on in and Let Me Love You
Weldon Myrick Once a Day
Johnny Winter Dallas
Little Jimmy Scott Everybody Needs Somebody
Jimmy Ruffin What Becomes of the Broken Hearted
Jay and the Americans (Jay Traynor) She Cried
Bob Crewe Music to Watch Girls By
The Orlons (Rosetta Hightower) The Wah-Watusi
Cream (Jack Bruce) I Feel Free
Joe Cocker Feelin’ Alright
Jerry Vale You Don’t Know Me
Deon Jackson Love Makes the World Go ‘Round
Acker Bilk Stranger on the Shore
Jeanne Black He’ll Have to Stay
George Hamilton IV Abilene
Sadina (Priscilla Mitchell) It Comes and Goes
Velva Darnell Not Me
The Bobbettes (Reather Dixon Turner) Mr. Lee
Jimmy C. Newman Artificial Rose
Jesse Winchester Do It
Bobby Womack What You Gonna Do (When Your Love is Gone)