LET’S TALK ABOUT GIRLS
by Bob Pomeroy
Let’s talk about girls who rock!
There are only two things that link the artists in this issue of Target or Flag; they’re female and they make good music. Beyond that, we’ve got about as diverse an assortment as you could ever want. What does that mean? Not much, really. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone these days that women can and do produce great music. That we have everything from snarly blues punk to lofty art music is just a reflection of the world we live in. Since there isn’t really any cosmic theme at work, lets get on with talking about the music.
Let’s start at the hard edge with Arkansas Heat, the latest from The Gossip. This is a band that digs deep in the crossroad dirt somewhere south of Memphis. The music is about as basic as you can get. Kathy Mendonca pounds the drums while Brace lays down the primal guitar boogie. It’s primitive rock like the Cramps used to make with Beth Ditto laying down the yelp like the love child of Lux Interior and voodoo priestess Marie Leveau. When you’ve warmed up with the retro chic of the Strokes and the Hives, then you’ll be ready for the pure strychnine of the Gossip.
If you’re not into pure poison, but still want an adventure, take a chance on the pure voice of Priya Thomas. It’s a sad commentary on the music biz that this magnificent Canadian singer would name her debut disc Music for Car Commercials. It’s sad because it really is more likely that Priya’s adventurous music will break big in a Toyota commercial than through commercial radio airplay. The massive success of O Brother Where Art Thou still hasn’t clued in radio executives that people crave sounds that are different.
Priya Thomas makes music that sounds different. Growing up in Montreal in an East Indian family, Priya was exposed to more cultural influences than most Americans can begin to comprehend. “Digging For Gold” is propelled by a keyboard riff that sounds a little like “96 Tears” while soaring high on an Indian violin riff. There is a tension between the Eastern and Western elements in Priya’s life and you can hear that tension in her music. Few other singers could pull off a song like “Fish Out of Water” and make it ring true. There are more common conflicts like the relationship woes that inform “It’s All About You” to keep things grounded. Music For Car Commercials is a strong statement of purpose from an artist who really should be getting international attention. The disc doesn’t have the raw passion of her live performance, which holds out promise the even better things are yet to come.
Two final notes about Music for Car Commercials. As of this writing, Priya Thomas does not have a US distributor. Check out her web site www.priyathomas.com. The second note is a bit of trivia; Priya samples Nick Drake on “All You Ever Wanted to Know about Your Heroes.” Nick Drake was an English folk singer who died in the early 70’s who achieved his greatest commercial success after his song “Pink Moon” was used in a car commercial.
Taking another step away from the raw toward the refined, we encounter the latest from former Helium singer Mary Timmony. The Golden Dove has the finely crafted feel of a sonic Faberge egg. The songs are multifaceted and quite lovely. “The Owl’s Escape” features a delicate piano line with some very spare string accents offsetting Mary voice. “Music and Charming Melodee” strikes me as a bit of Yes crossed with a bit of the Cars. Actually, when I play this disc, my mind slips back to groups like Pentangle who sat somewhere between folk rock and progressive rock back in the 70’s. “Shannon”
If Mary Timmony evoked the folk end of the art rock spectrum, Shannon Wright’s latest release, Dyed in the Wool, takes its cue from the likes of Pink Floyd and Gong. Her disc sounded familiar, yet exceptionally strange at the same time.. Shannon keeps the shopworn and dated elements out of her music, but brings along the richly embellished arrangements and theatrical vocals. I haven’t listened to a disc that demanded to be played in the wee hours of the morining in an altered state this much in ages. “lisa”
Let us finish with another Canadian. Lisa Patterson’s disc, This is What it Sounds Like (www.imaginitmusic.com), came out awhile ago and did fairly well for an independent release. “Meditate On Me” might be a good summation of Patterson’s music. The song is a reflective love ballad anchored by keyboards and strings. Lisa’s voice aches with passion and longing. Listening carefully, what sounds like an ordinary love song hints at a spiritual dimension. It’s the same sort of trick Richard Thompson pulled on Pour Down Like Silver, where the spiritual wears a pop disguise. Patterson’s music is calm, yet powerful. Her music embraces Western pop traditions, European folk traditions and Indian sounds. At various times, you can hear flamenco guitar, gypsy violin and tablas. Some use these kind of elements as ornamentation, but Patterson brings the elements together to suggest a harmony that is all too lacking in this world.
There you have it. A quick review of women who rock, covering nearly the full spectrum of pop music. Listen to some tunes and then let’s talk about girls.