This time around: Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars rock, The Fly-Rite Boys take off without Big Sandy and the Trailer Bride needs some Smelling Salts.
Kim Lenz's voice is a rough and tumble one, with growls and hiccups that sound more "masculine" than most women rockabillies – she nearly rips out her vocal chords on the hey- hey-hey's in "The Swing." Kim Lenz has managed to cut herself a wide swath within a very narrow musical genre. Her singing voice is unique in terms of contemporary rockabilly; her band is top notch; and she writes real rockabilly songs (all 14 tracks are her originals). Great Stuff.
It isn't easy being green, but it's ever harder to cut a mostly instrumental western swing, hillbilly boogie, and rockabilly album – especially for a band that normally plays with a great singer/frontman like Big Sandy. The Fly-Rite Boys (Wally Hersom, acoustic bass; Lee Geffriess, steel guitar; Carl "Sonny" Leyland, piano; Bobby Trimble, drums; and Ashley Kingsman, lead guitar) are a clear channel AM radio super station of swing, picked up at midnight on ghost vacuum tube hi-fi's.
The Fly-Rite Boys demonstrate their licks on a whole cluster of musical types related to western swing. Big Sandy Presents the Fly-Rite Boys (Hightone) gets underway with "Straight-8 Boogie," a smooth, 50 mph ride in a two door '40 Buick, fueled with a nice, clean-burning blend of hillbilly boogie and western swing. "Rosetta" is an easygoing western swing standard with Carl Leyland on vocals. There's jazz of various stripes – from the understated boogie-flavored "Mary's Mood," to the piano-powered flying bebop of "Wizard's Dust." Of course, there's cowboy jazz: "Laguna Sunset" is a spacious pastel canvas that allows Lee Geffriess and Ashley Kingman (steel guitar and electric guitar, respectively) to show the colors on their acoustic pallets. Everybody in the band gets a chance at hot licks in the disc's finale, the upbeat boogie "Minor Struggle." For fans of this music this disc is a must.
Trailer Bride's singer and primary songwriter Melissa Swingle calls to mind aspects of at least three other female singers. She's got the sometimes laconic, sometimes footloose and wild delivery of Lucinda Williams, as well as Williams's athletic sliding pitch. And let's not forget her Bloodshot labelmate Moonshine Willy's Kim Docter, whose lyrical wryness, and Appalachian gothic musical roots she shares. As a debut recording Smelling Salts (Bloodshot / www.bloodshotrecords.com) is miles ahead of most, it's a benchmark for the band to hold to in future recordings – this is one cool, provocative premiere. Track one "Quit that Jealousy" sets Swingle's persona up as a sexually aggressive woman with a challenging, combative imagination:
Baby take off that shirt
Let me see your hairy chest
And slip off them boots
Now turn around, let me see you dance
Cause I know you want some lovin'
I might just give you a chance
Swingle's vocal style and rough, fuzzy slide guitar work coat her lyrics in fun loving irony – there's more than a trace of Michelle Shocked here. On "Porch Song" Swingle's consciously unpolished vocal and instrumental delivery (banjo on this track) is at its complicated best, expressing both hubris and humility. She takes jabs at "studio men" and "funny-looking thing on a pole," as she simultaneously expresses her own weakness with "but, I get scared under them honky-tonk lights."
"Yoohoo River" tells the story of a river suicide in consciously and confusingly naïve terms – "well the bank was chocolate muddy, and her toes made a squishing sound. It was a fine day for a wedding, she didn't want no groom around." The imagery of the song is a comically lugubrious confusion of suicide and baptism, Christianity and naturalism, with bullfrogs, crickets, and birds singing farewell, and poplar trees dancing. There's a dirge-like "Graveyard," with Swingle playing a spooky/silly musical saw. The tongue in cheek "Show Business," naively and ironically proclaims "lets go to Memphis, break into show business." "Bruises for Pearls," a droopy, eerie, ambiguous thing, hints that something more than "corners of tables" is responsible for the singer's bruises, but also that "sometimes a bruise can be pretty." Whew!
Melissa Swingle sings, and plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, and saw. Brad Goolsby plays drums, tambourine, and other percussion. Daryl White plays stand-up bass and bass fiddle. Smelling Salts will either revive and refresh you, or numb you out, depending entirely upon your taste for this sort of material. There's musical and lyrical wit aplenty here, for those who will hear and appreciate it. Swingle and the boys aren't just fooling around. Smelling Salts is smart psychobilly from twisted Appalachian roots. - Dwight Thurston
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Dwight Thurston hosts an American Roots music program called "In the Weeds" on Fridays from 1-4:00pm on WWUH-FM 91.3, West Hartford. The "Blue Monday" blues show airs Monday nights from 9-midnight. Folk and roots music shows air from 6-9am on weekdays, as well as "UH Radio Bluegrass" on Saturday from 9:00am to 1:00pm. WWUH is also available in realaudio in real time on the Worldwide Web at http://uhavax.hartford.edu/~wwuh/wwuhreal.html. Responses to this column are welcome at email@example.com
Copyright 1998 Dwight Thurston and RootsWorld.
Copyright 1998 Dwight Thurston and RootsWorld.