Dead Girls and Other Stories
Full of Life
(Red Velvet)
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A few weeks ago while in Washington, D.C. on business, I wandered into a small club and caught one of the area’s local “buzz bands.” I’m glad I did.

Dead Girls and Other Stories, who advertise themselves as “groovy-girl-rock” are one of the best unsigned bands I’ve had the pleasure of discovering over the past 10 years and have all the makings of a breakout band on the rise. The band — three girl singers and a guy behind the drums who are anything but ‘dead’ — were chosen to play the local Maryland slot for this summer’s Lilith Fair, and also played the second stage for a Virginia staging of the H.O.R.D.E. festival in August. Obviously folks like them out east. And if their debut independent CD lands them a national record deal, they could be making radio waves all over in a year or two. For now though, if you want to hear the Dead Girls in Chicago, you’ll likely have to order their CD through their P.O. box or web site (see review’s end).

And why would you want to order the disc of an unknown local band from halfway across the country? Because they’ve put out an independently financed pop-rock-folk CD that sounds pro. Because they’re fun. Because they write songs both smoky and shiny. Full of Life is an apt title for this ever-moving disc. Vaulting from folky quiet guitar strums (“Maryanne”) to bouncy surf rock (“Liquid Joy”) to full-on rock anthem material (“[You Can Be A] Dead Girl”) — this is a slick, smart collection of waifish three-part harmonies and, well, “groovy-girl-rock.” There’s a beautiful swirl of “in the round” vocals in the midst of “Fly,” an eerie violin adding earth to the airy anthem of “Goodbye to Trees,” ghostly background vocals and moodily reverbed twanging guitars for the deadly tale of “Maryanne,” a funky bass and guitar intro to the playful “Too Much Weight” and late ‘60s keyboard splashes cheering the already smilin’ “Liquid Joy.”

More pop than the early Bangles, more contemplative than the Go-Go’s, and certainly deserving of sharing the stage with Liliths Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan, this is a girl-rock band with soul and sass. In their home of D.C., they’ve already established themselves as the local arm of the Lilith movement; aside from playing the fair, they regularly host the Honorary Dead Girl showcase of area female women artists. And certainly their songs promote girl power: their trademark song, “(You Can Be A) Dead Girl” is a call to arms against wasting away amid the strictures of society: “You are not a paper doll/you don’t live in a cardboard box/you are a Dead Girl/you can be...” And the sinister keyboard-bass grind of “Garbage Can” leads to a declaration of freedom as well: “what should I do/where should I go/give me the answer you seem to know...Don’t make me your garbage can/don’t load me with all your trash.”

If you want to hear samples of the Dead Girls music, stop at their web site - http://myhouse.com/kitchen/deadgirls/ To order, use the website or write P.O. Box 15265, Chevy Chase, MD 20825.

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The late-’90s may in the future be referred to as the “Lilith Years.” More female singer-songwriters have released albums in the past couple years than in probably the entire previous decade. The side effect of this is that fewer male singer-songwriters have been rising to the fore. But over the past couple months, a handful of newcomers have taken up the flag for male coffeehouse guitar & vocal performers. Following are reviews of two albums from the current “non-Lilith” pack. Look for more reviews of male singer-songwriters next week.

 

Shawn Mullins
Soul's Core
(Columbia)
  


The explosion of Shawn Mullins on the radio with his single “Lullabye” (recognizable by its keyline “every thing’s gonna be alright/rockabye, rockabye”) is a surprising success story given the song’s laidback spoken verses and the album’s general ‘70s rock/folkie acoustic bent. Most of the songs on Soul’s Core sound like coffeehouse material — gently refreshing, often catchy, but not exactly hit single fodder. “Anchored In You” opens the disc with a crowd-swaying anthemic love song rich in full organ and guitar (I can see the Bic lighters flicking in concert). The huge production of “Lullabye” follows, with pianos, guitars, smashing drums and a soaring falsetto chorus that hangs in the head for hours.

But it’s not the music of Soul’s Core that is the real core here. It’s character sketches. Nearly every song on the disc looks at the life of an interesting, often disturbed person, just as “Lullabye” touches down in the life of an emotionally teetering girl. The big sound of “Lullabye” doesn’t return too often though. Mostly, things settle back to a Dylanesque strum as Mullins sing-speaks his meandering stories. “Twin Rocks, Oregon” is backed by a gently strummed guitar as Mullins muses through verses about a guy met in the title city (“he said he’d been riding trains for 15 years/and drawing portraits to keep his belly full of beer/it looked to me like he’d died and missed the plane to heaven."

There are a few full band arrangements besides “Lullabye.” “Shimmer” rests on a big warm guitar riff, “The Gulf of Mexico” includes a roadhouse piano behind its character sketch and “September in Seattle” steps up with a bluesy soul organ, finger snaps, a funky guitar and piano chord riffs. In many ways, though, Soul’s Core is a throwback album to the days of ‘60s and ‘70s storytellers like Jackson Browne, Dylan, Johnny Cash, Gordon Lightfoot and the like. His lyrical sense and shifting mix of country, rock and folk also brings to mind Steve Earle and the Indigo Girls. Mullins’ stories are filled with wry observances of the truths and heartaches of others, and his deep voice, as it runs the gamut of folk, rock, country and soul has the mix of growl and silk that somehow grants his songs instant credibility. His voice resonates with basic truth. Soul’s Core is one of those timeless albums that are produced too rarely. Kick back and enjoy.

 

Eagle-Eye Cherry
Desireless
(Work)
  


Cherry belongs to a musical family. His dad Don is a well-known figure in jazz circles and sister Neneh has already had her run-in with the pop charts a few years ago with “Buffalo Stance” among other songs. Cherry currently has an upbeat rocker riding the charts in “Save Tonight,” a glossy tune with lots of background vocals and sweet guitar riffs.

While only “Falling In Love Again” matches “Save Tonight” in pure hit single properties, there are some nice light Lenny Kravitz-like funk rock numbers here, mixed amid slower acoustic guitar based numbers. The album ends with a cover of one of his dad’s tunes, the jazz stretch that this album takes its name from. Desireless is a strong debut, but while Cherry sounds accomplished in the studio, his return power to the charts is questionable.