MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: JNA, Jaws of Brooklyn, Liza Minnelli, Student Nurse, Doris Troy

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Put on JNA’s debut EP, I Have Good Taste But For Some Reason I Like You, close your eyes, and you might feel you’ve been transported back to the era of hypnotically blissful ‘70s numbers like “Love to Love You Baby,” “Funkytown,” and “Le Freak.”

“Tell Me Why” gets the party started with a toe-tapping hook, keeping the beat going with its strutting bass and insinuating synthesizer. JNA’s voice is cool and clear, musing in about her inability to get over a lover whose presence she senses everywhere; there’s also a teasing quality to her delivery that suggests she’s not that anxious to move on – and why should she be? But in “Only You,” she sounds more vulnerable, heartbreak lashed to a snappy beat. The dreamy “Freak” is a whisper of seduction, an invitation to a night of commitment-free fun. “I Need You” has the same pulsating energy as Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” in a song of steadily percolating desire. Here’s hoping that on her next outing, we get the full-length album treatment.

They might be based in Seattle, but the Jaws of Brooklyn wanted to soak up the kind of Southern blues you can only absorb by actually visiting Muscle Shoals, Alabama – the region that’s home to the legendary Fame Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, as well as Sundrop Sound, where they laid down their debut album, appropriately titled The Shoals.

It’s the more forceful numbers that make the biggest impression. The opening track “Give It a Try” has the thick, chunky sound of 1960s soul pop, all fuzzy guitars and organ, with vocalist Lindsay Love standing in for Dusty Springfield. “Forever and a Day” mixes the effervescence of the Supremes with slices of garage rock guitar. “Sugar Sugar” is light and sweet and “Fever” is smokey and smooth. The perfect songs for a sizzling summer.

Liza Minnelli’s record setting run at Carnegie Hall in September 1979 (with all eleven shows selling out) was documented on the 1981 double album Live at Carnegie Hall. Now a newly expanded CD reissue, Live in New York 1979 (Real Gone Music), offers both the original album and the complete show, the latter released in its entirety for the first time, in sparkling remastered sound.

Minnelli was at her peak as a vocalist during this decade. There’s a terrific version of “Some People” from the musical Gypsy, which featured some of Stephen Sondheim’s best lyrics (“Some people sit on their butts/Got the dream, yeah, but not the guts”), and will make you wonder why Minnelli has never been offered the role of Mama Rose. “Arthur in the Afternoon,” from her 1977 musical The Act, is also cheeky good fun. And of course you get “Cabaret.” But she also taps into modern pop, with a snazzy rendition of James Taylor’s “Everybody Has the Blues” and a lovely version of Melissa Manchester’s “Come In From the Rain.” The three CD set displays this consummate song stylist at her best; there’s also a shorter two LP set on luscious red vinyl.

In the eyes of the outside world, the Seattle music scene of the early 1980s had nothing going on. Ah, but that would be overlooking the innumerable smallish bands who came together, released a few tracks, then sank into oblivion. Such as Student Nurse, founded by Helena Rogers, who moved to Seattle in the late 1970s, bought a guitar, took lessons from the same man who taught Bonnie Guitar and Nancy Wilson, then joined musical forces with her then-husband, drummer John Rogers. Think For Yourself: Seattle Tour 1978-1984 (Salish Sea Records) features the handful of tracks the band released at the time, and eighteen songs that remained in the vaults until now.

It’s spirited, spiky, punky new wave, with forays into funk and ska; check out that swingable dance beat in “Discover Your Feet,” about the joys of walking once the oil reserves have dried up (though most vocals are by Helena, it’s bassist Joe Harris on this one). “Tough Guy in the Lab” has a similarly nervy energy about creepy laboratory goings on. “Bad Gossip” skips with giddy pleasure, and you sure wish “Sperm Bank for the New Order” had lyrics. Compiling the CD inspired the band to give their first show in 38 years; good to have them back, however long it lasts.

Doris Troy is best known for “Just One Look,” her biggest hit, which she also co-wrote under the name “Doris Payne.” Her first album, Doris Troy Sings Just One Look & Other Memorable Selections, is a solid set of 1960s-era soul and R&B, with Troy co-writing most of the tracks, including such treats as the musical mash-up “Bossa Nova Blues” and slow, pleading “Lazy Days (When Are You Coming Home?).” You can pick it up on newly reissued green vinyl from Real Gone Music.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Ann Wilson, Nancy & Lee, fanclubwallet, Stoney & Meatloaf

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Ann Wilson has one of the most recognizable, and impressive, voices in rock, whether she’s fronting her own band Heart or going solo. Fierce Bliss (Silver Lining Music) is a solo outing, and sees her making one of her own dreams come true; recording for the album began at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama (where such artists as Elton John, Cher, Willie Nelson, and Millie Jackson have recorded).

There are some well-chosen covers; a beautiful version of Queen’s “Love of My Life” (sharing the vocal with Vince Gill), while tackling Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man” is an obvious pick for a voice as powerful as Wilson’s. And her own co-written numbers crackle with a spirited energy. “Greed” turns a critical eye on a culture where however much you consume it’s not enough; “A Moment in Heaven” takes on the entertainment industry (“Hollywood be thy name”), where the next big thing becomes yesterday’s news all too soon. The chunky rock riffs of the ’70s are still Wilson’s musical calling card, and she also loves a deep dive into the blues, as you can hear on the searing “Angel’s Blues.” Wilson is currently on US/Canadian tour through June 24, with a performance at FloydFest22 in Floyd, Virginia, set for July 30.

Nancy Sinatra’s career got a huge boost when she recorded Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (just check out the groovy promo film). But then things started to get really interesting. Reissue label Light in the Attic launched their Nancy Sinatra Archival Series in 2021 with the release of the compilation Nancy Sinatra: Start Walkin’ 1965-1976, followed by a reissue of her first album, Boots. Now comes the reissue of her first collaborative album with Hazlewood, Nancy & Lee.

It was a pairing Sinatra jokingly describes in the album’s liner notes as a “beauty and the beast” match up, with Hazlewood’s stentorian deep baritone and Sinatra’s cool been-there-done-that delivery. In the ethereal “Some Velvet Morning,” she embodies the spirit of the mythological doomed princess Phaedra, as Hazlewood mournfully sings of how she brought him to ruin. There’s a haunting rendition of “Elusive Dreams,” about a couple continually searching for those greener pastures and never finding them. It’s an album of sophisticated adult pop, and this reissue comes with two excellent bonus tracks, a jazzy cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange,” and an astonishing remake of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You.” Look for a reissue of the follow up, Nancy & Lee Again, coming later this year.

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me (AWAL) is the debut album by fanclubwallet, the music project from Ottawa-based Hannah Judge (who’s also an illustrator). It’s primarily a solo outing, with Judge writing most of the songs, and producer Michael Watson also doing some co-writing and playing drums; the two split up the other instruments (guitar, bass, synths) between them.

This is a break up album that evinces a strong sense of self-awareness. “That I Won’t Do” captures the confusion of contradictions (wanting to talk, not wanting to talk), nicely summed up in the lines “Maybe I can split myself in two/Maybe there’s a me that hasn’t met you.” “Toast” is a song about cocooning, holing up until you feel it’s safe to go outside again (which could possibly be never). “Solid Ground” is about getting back to stability, and the title track is a study in communication breakdown. Everything’s set to a crisp, clean indie rock beat, a sound that’s as bracing as fresh air on a brisk walk.

In 1970, Shaun “Stoney” Murphy and Michael Aday, aka Meatloaf (which he’d later split into two names, Meat Loaf), were in a Detroit production of the rock musical Hair, where their singing capabilities captured the attention of Motown Records. The two were signed by the label, and Meatloaf & Stoney was released in 1971. The album’s since been reissued in various configurations, with Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records now fleshing out the original 10-track album to two CD’s worth of songs on Everything Under the Sun: The Motown Recordings, featuring the original album and plenty of bonus tracks.

Both singers have commanding voices (Phillips received acclaim in Hair for her powerful rendition of “Easy to Be Hard”), and their playful jousting in the rousing “What You See Is What You Get” took them into the R&B Top 40. The songs are an eclectic mix of gospel-rock (“[I’d Love to Be] As Heavy as Jesus”), breezy pop (“The Way You Do the Things You Do”) and funky blues (“Game of Love”). The second disc has Murphy’s solo tracks, including her fine 1973 single “Let Me Come Down Easy,” the Bobbie Gentry-styled country rock “Mo Jo Hannah,” and an expressive cover of Janis Joplin’s “A Woman Left Lonely.” A fun record to rediscover.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Juanita Euka, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Karen Dalton, Irma Thomas

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Born in RD Congo, raised in Buenos Aires, and now based in the UK, Juanita Euka has already made a name for herself through singing with groups like the London Afrobeat Collective, Latin/Afro band Aminanz, and Cuban fusion group Wara. Now she steps out on her own, with her exhilarating solo debut, Mabanzo (Strut Records). Euka’s musical heritage encompasses not only Latin and African influences, but also absorbing her father’s favorites when she was growing up in Argentina, like Sinatra and Roxette (“he LOVED Roxette!”), and discovering what she calls “female singers with attitude” (TLC, Salt-N-Pepa) via MTV. It’s a rich tapestry to draw from, making her music especially vibrant and enticing.

The opening track, “Alma Seca” (“Dry Soul”), begins with a simple, steady beat, adds gently tapping percussion, then brings in Euka’s cool voice, her light, breezy delivery offering no clue that the lyrics are actually about a failed love affair. Whether singing in Spanish, English, or French, the percolating rhythms draw you in, and there’s a decided life-affirming subtext to much of the album. “Suenos de Libertad” (“Dream of Freedom”) is a beguiling number about the struggle for justice as a way of honoring the past. “Blood” is a proud, uplifting song about the perseverance of hope. “Camarades” (“Comrades”) accentuates the positive in preparing for the future: “You have to change the day/You have to change your destination/It all starts in your head.” Euka’s musical journey is one that’s worth celebrating.

It’s been great to see pioneering women guitarists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe finally getting recognition for their accomplishments. Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is another musician who broke ground as one of the few women musicians on the R&B circuit, wielding her guitar for decades before she finally got the opportunity to release her first album, at age 60. Now, three years after her death in 2019 at the age of 80, comes her first live album, In Paris (Music Maker Foundation), taken from a 2012 show.

Watkins described her style as “real Lightnin’ Hopkins lowdown blues … hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues,” and she certainly smokes throughout this set, from the anti-war vibes of “Baghdad Blues” to the rollicking wrap up, “Get Out on the Floor.” She growls her way through a fierce take of “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles (whom she used to play with), and sweetly croons Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” And for a master class in blues you can’t do better than the steamy “Red Mama Blues,” named after one of her guitars.

Karen Dalton didn’t sound like any other folk singer, with a bluesy cast to her voice that drew comparisons with Billie Holiday (though she herself cited Bessie Smith as her greatest influence). Dalton, of Native American and Irish heritage, was born in Texas and grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, where she learned to play guitar and banjo. She arrived in Greenwich Village just in time for the folk boom of the 1960s, but never reconciled with the machinations of the music industry, and after the release of her second album, she retired as a performer (tellingly, an ad promoting the record was headlined “For 10 years, Karen Dalton has been trying hard not to be famous”). She later struggled with substance abuse, and died of AIDS-related illness in 1993 at the age of 55.

Over the years, Dalton’s music resurfaced in television series and films (Brittany Runs a Marathon, The Serpent). Now comes the reissue of that second album, In My Own Time (Light in the Attic) in an expanded edition. Dalton generally performed other people’s songs, and the album has a mesmerizing version of the traditional ballad “Katie Cruel,” a sorrowful tale of a woman in decline: “When I first came to town/They brought me drinks of plenty/Now they’ve changed their tune/And hand me the bottles empty.” There’s a fine honky-tonk rendition of “How Sweet It Is,” and, for the first time, the release of Dalton’s live recordings, including “Blues on the Ceiling,” “Are You Leaving for the Country,” and a heart-rending version of her best known number, “Something On Your Mind.”

Irma Thomas, “the Soul Queen of New Orleans,” had her first hit when her single, “Don’t Mess with My Man,” reached No. 22 on the R&B chart in 1960; she’d just turned 19. Over the course of her career she landed other hits on the R&B and pop charts, and released a number of gospel albums as well. Her songs also came to the attention of other artists; Tracey Ullman would record “Breakaway,” and the Rolling Stones would cover “Time Is On My Side,” both previously recorded by Thomas in 1964.

In the 1970s, Jerry Wexler signed Thomas to Cotillion Records, but the label only ended up releasing one single by her, “Full Time Woman,” in 1972; the rest of the tracks were left to languish in the vaults. They first escaped on CD in 2014; now vinyl fans can partake in the bounty on Full Time Woman: The Lost Cotillion Album (Real Gone Music), pressed on light blue vinyl. The title track is a stirring song of independence, sung from the perspective of a proud woman in search of personal fulfillment. There’s a powerful version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy,” with Thomas’ own Southern roots adding further authenticity to this tale of sin and redemption. There’s also original material, such as the jauntily optimistic “Waiting for Someone,” with the promise of good times just around the corner.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Spell Songs, Full Bush, Eva Gardner, Mary Wilson and a Bonus Book

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Spell Songs II: Let the Light In (Quercus Records), the second album by the Spell Songs ensemble, is a magical release. The performers first came together to create a musical accompaniment to the book The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris; the new album is inspired by their subsequent book, The Lost Spells. The books celebrate the wonder of nature, and the performers are drawn from the cream of the British-based folk scene.

In “Bramble,” Karine Polwart’s cool, precise vocal depicts a city slowly becoming engulfed by “thorn arches;” in “Moth,” her recitation of moth names becomes a kind of poetry (she describes the lyric as “a moth mantra for banishing fear, and conjuring delight”). The light-hearted harmonies on “Daisy” take you back to childhood days of making flower chains. The haunting “St. Kilda Wren,” sung by Julie Fowlis in the original Gaelic, is a poignant yearning for the return of the bird to the Scottish archipelago. The song titles reveal the simplicity of the subjects: “Barn Owl,” “Silver Birch,” “Oak.” The performers (also including musicians Kris Drever and Jim Molyneux, cellist Beth Porter, harpist Rachel Newton, and Senegal-born multi-instrumentalist Seckou Keita) create sublime music to reveal the beauty within.

Philadelphia foursome Full Bush return with the EP Movie Night (Brutal Panda Records). They’re the kind of post punk that’s reminiscent of Throwing Muses—raucous enough to have an edge, but with decided pop underpinnings that draw you in. Which means that while the opening track “Spooky” might start off in a quiet, even eerie fashion, the melodic hooks are so strong that by the time the raging chorus kicks in, you’re more than ready to go along for the ride.

The EP’s five tracks are something of a study in contrasts. An especially nice juxtaposition comes when the murmuring end of “Sweet and Low” — “Tell me how to love you, tell me what to say” — is abruptly followed by the snarling opening line of the next song, the EP’s title track: “You don’t understand shit!” There’s some wonderful lyrical imagery, such as the line “I’m not drunk, I’m just speaking in cursive,” from “Wild Heart.” They finally let loose on the final song, “One Second,” a coolly contemplative number that builds to an explosive finish. More, please!

Eva Gardner began her career in Mars Volta, and went on to play bass with the likes of Veruca Salt, Moby, Cher, and Pink. But the multi-instrumentalist steps out on her on her second EP, Darkmatter (self-released). “Is Love Enough” muses about the vagaries of romance against the backdrop of jangling guitars. Conversely, “California Bliss” is keyboard-based, an ode to escapism (“I want to stay here/away from the trouble”), with the kind of laid-back beat that conjures up visions of waves gently lapping at the shore.

Pop hooks abound; the playful “London Nights” has the lush sound of Dream Police-era Cheap Trick. There’s also an upbeat breeziness to the songs, even those expressing some trepidation about love (“Anywhere But Here”). The dreamy harmonies of “High Moon” lead into the tougher rhythms (and more jangling guitars) of “Let’s Call It a Day,” a call to lay down one’s metaphorical arms, bringing things to a conclusion on a conciliatory note.

The Supremes were one of the most successful all-female vocal groups of all time, and Mary Wilson was the only member who was there for the entire run, from the days of pre-Supremes group the Primettes in the late 1950s to the final days of the Supremes in 1977. Mary Wilson: The Motown Anthology (Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records) is the first set highlighting her work, right up to the present day.

The first track goes back to the Primettes era with “Pretty Baby,” the B-side of the group’s first single, “Tears of Sorrow,” released in 1960. “Pretty Baby,” which features Wilson’s lead vocal, is very much in the style of other “girl group” records of the period (the Chantels, the Shirelles). There are four previously unreleased Supremes songs featuring Wilson on lead, the best of which is her spirited take on “Son of a Preacher Man.” Other unreleased gems include two previously unreleased songs from the penultimate concert of the Diana Ross-Mary Wilson-Cindy Birdsong Supremes lineup in Las Vegas on January 13, 1970, sublimely smooth versions of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Falling in Love.”

The two-disc set also features her underappreciated 1979 Mary Wilson album, making its debut on CD. You’ll also find what sadly turned out to be her last single, the reflective “Why Can’t We All Get Along,” released this past March, a month after her sudden death on February 8, 2021. This well-annotated set will likely stand as the definitive package of Mary Wilson’s musical accomplishments.

Looking for a way to educate younger listeners about the music of Black female artists? Take a look at She Raised Her Voice: 50 Black Women Who Sang Their Way Into History (Running Press Kids) written by music journalist Jordannah Elizabeth and illustrated by Briana Dengoue. It’s a fun, lively series of portraits of singers and musicians from Bessie Smith to Beyoncé, Leontyne Price to Poly Styrene, Tina Turner to Angélique Kidjo. It’ll surely inspire you to revisit the music of your old favorites, and seek out the tunes of the artists you’re not as familiar with; a great way to spend the holidays.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Dolphin Midwives, Anika, Olivia Newton-John in Toomorrow

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

The new Dolphin Midwives album, Body of Water (Beacon Sound) is a transcendent, magical work that defies ready categorization, encompassing voice, harp, percussion, and electronics courtesy Portland, Oregon sound artist Sage Elaine Fisher. Experimental, ambient, neo-classical, sonic manipulation — the album encompasses elements of each of these, yet stands as a singular, distinctive work in its own right.

It’s bookended by two widely differing pieces. The opener, “Hyperobject,” starts as a simple series of percussive beats paired with a light “ha-ha-ha” vocal melody, both of which become increasingly fragmented until they merge in a swirling cascade of intense sound. At the other end, “Sunbathing” is a gentle number played on the harp, lyrical and soothing, though there’s a slight twist in the final minute, when there’s a sonic hiccup, a kind of stumble. Sage’s processed voice provides an ethereal sheen. “Hummingbird-i” begins with a stuttering vocal that seemingly emulates the rapid wings of the bird. The mesmerizing “Clearing” has a crystalline lead voice winding around murmured backing vocals and a pulse running underneath as steady as a heartbeat. In “Capricorn,” Sages sings in counterpoint to a somewhat clipped keyboard line, her vocal harmonizing turning back on itself in a never-ending cycle. Body of Water is a remarkable work of great depth, an intriguing album that casts a spell, drawing you into its mysterious realm.

British-born, Berlin-based musician Anika (Annika Henderson) first made her name with her 2010 self-titled debut, which offered fractured reworkings of songs like Yoko Ono’s “Yang Yang” and Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep.” She’s since worked with numerous other musicians and artists, as well as forming the band Exploded View (based in Mexico City), but hasn’t released another solo work until now.

Anika pithily describes her new album, Change (Sacred Bones) as “a vomit of emotions, anxieties, empowerment, and of thoughts like — How can this go on? How can we go on?” Perfectly reasonable questions to ask during a pandemic, which is when this album was recorded, Anika co-producing alongside Exploded View’s Martin Thulin (who also played bass and drums). The first track, “Finger Pies,” opens with the kind of melodic, ’60s-era sound (thudding bass, poppy melody) that brings to mind the best of Motown, but that’s just the jumping off point. Anika has the kind of cool, deadpan delivery that inevitably gets compared to Nico. But there’s a sly humor at work, as in “Critical,” when she solemnly intones she’ll give her man what he deserves, only to reveal that the “little gift” might just be cyanide. Among the electronic beats, rhythms, and synths, you’ll find some heart and soul, and no small measure of determination; as she urges in “Rights”: “Feel your power/Show me power.”

In the summer of 1978, Grease was the word, and if the radio wasn’t playing “You’re the One That I Want,” it was playing “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” But little did most of those enjoying Olivia Newton-John’s turn as Sandy in the musical blockbuster know that it wasn’t her first time before film cameras. In 1970, she appeared in Toomorrow, as a member of an aspiring rock band who get beamed up to a UFO, where some visiting extra-terrestrials beg them to voyage to their home planet, because Toomorrow’s music is so cosmically conscious it will help their species survive. Gee, and all Toomorrow wanted was a record contract!

Due to various legal complications, the film had poor distribution and was little seen, making it an obvious contender for cult film status, especially after Newton-John became a hit recording artist. Now, the film’s soundtrack has been rescued from obscurity by ace reissue label Real Gone Music. The songs are light, tuneful pop; think the Cowsills or the Partridge Family. Newton-John gets the lead in “Walkin’ on Air,” and her voice rings through on the group numbers. The film is good kitschy fun, and can be found on DVD (or you can watch it in its entirety below, thanks to intrepid YouTube users).

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Tele Novella, Lael Neale, Lau & Dusty Springfield

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Tele Novella hails from Lockhart, Texas (33 miles south of Austin), and their music is so multi-faceted it almost defies description. “Coin-operated medieval pop songs through a 1960s western lens” is how their Twitter bio puts it, which gives you some idea. They take country, pop, indie, and folk, and twist it all into delightfully unexpected shapes.

“Words That Stay” is the striking opening number of the duo’s new album, Merylnn Belle (Kill Rock Stars). On the surface, it sounds like a song about a lost love. But Natalie Ribbons’ dry, husky voice has enough bite in it that you’re left unsettled. Something’s not quite right here. Something’s a little off-center. And that’s the hook that draws you in.

The album’s homespun sound is the result of recording on an 8-track cassette deck. Neither Ribbons or her co-collaborator Jason Chronis were keen on doing many overdubs, so minor mistakes were left in, and the use of vintage microphones adds further atmosphere. This record takes you into another realm. “Paper Crown” is a surreal nursery rhyme. “Crystal Witch” is a spooky fairy tale. The soft-shoe shuffle of “Technicolor Town” is the closing lullaby that sends you off to sleep with Ribbons howling like a wolf. Imaginative, captivating and intriguing.

Lael Neale also opted for simplicity in making Acquainted With Night (Sub Pop), recording on 4-track cassette, accompanied only by an Omnichord (an electronic instrument that produces both chiming music notes and pre-programmed beats, and is smaller than a keyboard). There’s a delicate gracefulness to the songs, even as they touch on sadness and longing. The beautifully-titled “Every Star Shivers in the Dark” is a song of aching vulnerability, with such haunting images as Neale waving to a man in a prison tower, though there’s a glimmer of hope by the end.

“How Far Is It to the Grave” is another evocative song; mortality, as seen from the perspective of a child, a lover, a banker, a slave owner. Neale’s empathetic, crystal-clear voice makes the song sound like a prayer, lifting it from despondency. The title track is a shimmering, seductive number about how very different things become under the “cold, white shape of the moon.” And “Some Sunny Day” is a song of farewell, of looking back and having no regrets as the sands run out. Neale’s lyrics also have the elegance of poetry: “I’ve known the sand that made the pearl inside my mind.”

Anyone whose tastes run to synthpop/synthwave has likely crossed paths with Lau (aka Laura Fares) over the past decade. The Argentinian-born musician relocated to the UK at the age of 17. After years of working as a session drummer, DJ, and teaming up with Nina Boldt on the albums Sleepwalking and Synthian (credited to “Nina featuring Lau”), she’s now stepped out on her own as a solo artist, with her debut album, Believer, released on her own Aztec Records label.

The album kicks off with “Stunning,” an instantly catchy track that’s one of the most effervescent breakup songs you’ll ever hear; it’s a smooth, streamlined, fuel-injected ride to freedom, an “I Will Survive” for the 21st century. The deluxe version of the album also features a “Popcorn Kid Nocturnal mix” of the track, reworking it into a slower paced, sultry ballad. There are remixes of four other album tracks as well. The soulful “True” is presented in three versions; an original, ethereal mix, a decidedly poppier “Luke Million Remix,” and a more dance-oriented “Austin Apologue Remix.” Indeed, Lau conjures up such a mesmerizing groove, it’s easy to forget that the album’s theme is the fallout generated by the end of a relationship. The rock-steady, electronic beats of “Recognise,” “Unable,” and the cover of HAIM’s “Now I’m in It” are sparkling sweet treats.

From 1969 to 1971, Dusty Springfield recorded some of her best work for Atlantic Records, moving from the pop songs that had made her a star to the soul music she’d always loved. On Dusty in Memphis (1969) she was backed by the legendary “Memphis Boys,” an informal group of studio musicians who played on hit records by Neil Diamond, Merilee Rush, and Wilson Pickett, among others, and the equally acclaimed Sweet Inspirations, the all-female backing group who recorded with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Van Morrison, and toured with Elvis Presley in the 1970s. On A Brand New Me (1970), she worked with noted songwriting/production team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (“Me and Mrs. Jones,” “Love Train,” and “When Will I See You Again,” to name a few). The best-known song from those years is of course Springfield’s classic rendition of “Son of Preacher Man,” with “The Windmills of Your Mind” running a close second. Now all of Springfield’s Atlantic 7-inchers have been compiled on The Complete Atlantic Singles 1968-1971 (Real Gone Music). Only eight of the 24 tracks have appeared on CD before, in their original mono mixes. It’s wonderful to hear sterling non-album tracks like “I Believe in You” and “Haunted” in such suburb quality.

Musique Boutique: Maggie Herron, Tanya Donelly & the Parkington Sisters, and Norma Tanega

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Before the darkness of the pandemic descended, you could see jazz pianist Maggie Herron every Wednesday through Saturday at Lewers Lounge, tucked away in a corner of the elegant Halekulani, a luxury resort in Waikiki. Over the course of an evening you might hear the classically-trained Herron performing standards like “I’m Beginning to See the Light” or “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” or perhaps something from a musical, like “Whatever Lola Wants.” There are modern songs too; her albums have included the likes of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” and the Beatles’ “I Will,” as well as original material.

The Lewers gig went on hiatus when Halekulani closed for renovations due to the pandemic, with the plan of reopening next year. Then Herron was dealt a harsher blow: her daughter, Dawn, was killed in a bicycle accident this past April. Mother and daughter were co-songwriters, and had been working on material for Herron’s next album. Mourning her loss, and housebound due to the pandemic, Herron decided to complete her album, and Your Refrain is an eloquent tribute to their creative bond.

The album is not without its humorous touches. “I’m not feeling very well” is the album’s opening salvo in the first track, “What Not,” but it turns out to be a light-hearted number about the joys of lethargy. “I just need to spend my days lying on this couch,” Herron sings, making that sound like a pretty good idea. The lively “He Can’t Even Lay An Egg” is a fun number with typical blues innuendo, about a strutting rooster who falls down on the job in other ways. Herron’s husky voice is well suited to this cheeky tune. The playful “I Can’t Seem to Find My Man” is in a similar vein.

On the other end of the spectrum are numbers like the beautiful love song “Touch,” with a lyrical acoustic guitar solo from Jim Chiodini. The album’s covers serve as further tributes to Herron’s daughter. Dawn loved the work of Joni Mitchell, and Herron’s simple arrangement of “Both Sides Now” (Herron on piano, Dean Taba on bass) brings out the underlying melancholy. The resonant “God Bless the Child” is enhanced by a smooth tenor sax solo by Bob Sheppard.

And the title track is the heartbreaker. “Your Refrain” is a song of loss, a song of holding your loved one close even when they’re no longer present: “Without breath, without sound, you still remain.” Herron’s piano is complemented by a string arrangement that adds to the melancholy mood. It’s a song about holding on, in the face of sorrow. But it’s not the end of the story. There are other songs the two have written that Herron has yet to record, so we can look forward to more work from this songwriting team in the future.

When Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, the Breeders, Belly) was asked to record a covers album for American Laundromat Records, she initially demurred, thinking, how can you improve a song that’s great already? But then she realized she could bring in other artists as well, opening up the possibility of creating something truly special. So she tapped the Boston-based Parkington Sisters to join her, and their resulting self-titled album offers a diverse mix of songs, with some unexpected choices.

The Go-Go’s (“Automatic”) and the Pretenders (“Kid”) are some obvious picks. The use of violin, viola, and cello over the electric guitars of the original gives “Automatic” a warmer, richer feeling, while the mid-tempo “Kid” has a more wistful cast to it. Singers love to cover Leonard Cohen, and the Donelly/Parkington version of “Dance Me to the End of Love” has an ethereal, somewhat spooky quality (Maggie Herron covered the same song on her A Ton of Trouble album). They draw on Kirsty MacColl’s arrangement of “Days” (itself a cover, as MacColl was covering a Kinks’ track), their lovely harmonies a perfect match for the song.

There’s a move into classic rock, with the group taking on Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” with a performance that scales back the volume of the original, but is just as emotionally powerful. Then there’s Echo & the Bunnyman’s sweeping “Ocean Rain.” In the hands of Donelly and the Sisters, it’s far more languid, and ultimately uplifting. And I actually prefer their version of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “You Will Be Loved Again,” which also spotlights the musicians’ exquisite harmonies.

“Hear the unloved weeping like rain/Guard your sleep from the sound of their pain” Norma Tanega advises in “You’re Dead,” the lead off track from her 1966 album Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog. More recently, you might recognize it as the theme song for the FX series What We Do In the Shadows, about modern-day vampires. The spare instrumentation and Tanega’s cool, dry vocals give her bleak observations (“Don’t ever talk with your eyes/Be sure that you compromise”) a world-weary matter-of-factness: This is real life. Deal with it.

Prior to Shadows, Tanega’s best-known song was the title number of her debut album (newly reissued in a limited-edition run on sky blue vinyl by Real Gone Music). It’s an upbeat number reminiscent of “Feelin’ Groovy,” with quirky lyrics rooted in truth. Tanega wanted a dog, but, unable to keep one where she was living, she did the next best thing – getting a cat and naming him Dog, a pet she’d then walk around town like a real canine.

It’s part and parcel of Tanega’s idiosyncratic approach to her music. “The folkies don’t like me and the rock ‘n’ rollies don’t like me,” she said in an interview, a quote that pinpoints the difficulty of slotting her into any one category. You’ll hear folk and pop all right, along with jazz, country, blues, avant garde experimentation, and unusual time signatures that keep you off balance. Tanega had a relationship with Dusty Springfield, who recorded a number of her songs; compare the poetic folksiness of Tanega’s “No Stranger Am I” with the crisp sheen of Springfield’s version. Another nice surprise; “Hey Girl” is Tanega’s arrangement of Lead Belly’s classic blues “In the Pines” (aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”). Worth rediscovering.

June Millington Looks Back on Fanny as Real Gone Music Preps Reissue of 1970 Debut

When Fanny was released in 1970, it was notable for being more than just the self-titled debut album of the Los Angeles-based rock act. It was also the very first album, by an all-female band, released by a major label.

In some ways, that was surprising; women had certainly been involved in rock and pop from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, from Wanda Jackson to the Supremes, from the Shangri Las to Janis Joplin. But female musicians, especially those playing electric instruments, were not nearly as prevalent. Nor would major labels take a chance on the few all-female bands that were around; acts like Goldie & the Gingerbreads or the Pleasure Seekers were only able to release singles at the time.

So it was Fanny, and Fanny, that made the breakthrough. The 11-track album (newly reissued in a limited edition run by collector’s label Real Gone Music) is an enticing blend of spirited rock, leavened with doses of sweet soul, and a touch of edgy funk. “It’s quite the debut, I think,” says Fanny’s guitarist, June Millington. That’s certainly true of the music – but even just showing women wielding their guitars and drumsticks with passion and skill on the gatefold sleeve made a statement in itself.

Making music together had been a lifelong pursuit for June and her sister Jean. The two were born in the Philippines to an American father and Filipina mother, and emigrated to California in 1961, forming their first band when they were teenagers. There were lineup and name changes over the years, but one thing remained constant: the group was always all-female. “We really wanted to have an all-girl band,” says Millington. “It was like we were obsessed. I really believe it was our destiny. We were meant to do it.”

It was fitting, then, that it was a woman who helped the band get their big break. Norma Goldstein, secretary to record producer Richard Perry (who’d recently scored his first hit with Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”), recommended the group to her boss after catching a powerhouse set at LA club the Troubadour in 1968. Soon the group had a contract with Reprise Records, a new lineup (June on guitar, Jean on bass, Nicole “Nicky” Barclay on keyboards, Alice de Buhr on drums; all four members sang), and a new name — Fanny. Millington liked the idea of using a woman’s name; to her it represented a friendly guide, “a woman’s spirit watching over us” like a guardian angel. Being a double entendre also made it more playful, something the label was quick to capitalize on, producing swag with the cheeky slogan “Get behind Fanny.”

After years of playing Top 40 hits like “Louie Louie,” “Nowhere to Run,” and “To Sir, With Love,” at legion halls, fraternities, and community centers up and down the West Coast, Fanny was anxious to flex their creative muscle, and most of the tracks on their debut were originals. Barclay’s ballad “Conversation with a Cop” caught the zeitgeist of the hippie era, but still has relevance today, drawn from her own experience of being hassled by the police for walking her dog (“I thought I had the right to take a walk at any time I pleased/I never knew the night could turn a whim into a crime”). “Take a Message to the Captain” is a tuneful, forthright statement of independence with tight harmonies. The fiery “Shade Me” is a stomping rocker, showing Fanny at their wildest.

Millington welcomed the chance to learn more about the recording process, something she’d explore more deeply in the future. “I think we were really lucky to end up with Richard, because he trained us well,” she says. “And he was learning as well, and he was as dedicated as we were. He told me, ‘You learned from every single session. When you came back, you were better.’ He saw how passionate I was about it, and he really did respond to that.”

This, despite the fact that Millington wasn’t entirely happy with Perry’s production. “I’m still totally critical,” she agrees. “We were all totally intent in putting out a sound that would be competitive in the marketplace. I think that Fanny live really presented a sound that was hard for other bands to compete with. Because we were that good, we had that big of a sound. But he definitely toned that down.” Subsequent live releases do show that Fanny packed more of a punch in concert.

Fanny received good reviews, with the band’s terrific cover of Cream’s song “Badge” singled out for special praise. It’s a song Millington felt was “written for women to sing. If you say the words to ‘Badge’ out loud, those are for girls to sing. And we totally made that song ours — or it made us theirs.” She takes a special pride in her guitar work, having been pressed to take on lead guitar duties when Fanny’s lineup was reworked, post major-label deal. “I wasn’t even playing lead guitar a year before that album was put out,” she says. “I went from zero to the solo in ‘Badge’ in a year. That’s when I look back and go ‘Who was that woman on guitar? I’d love to meet her!’”

Fanny spent much of the next four years on the road, not only to promote their records, but also to prove that they really could play their instruments and hadn’t relied on session musicians. “We knew how good we were,” says Millington. “And we had to prove it at every gig. We understood that.” But they couldn’t escape the stereotypical assumptions about female musicians, “the constant put downs,” as Millington puts it. “People were so condescending. We had to listen to stupid questions. We were infantilized all over the place. ‘What is it like to be a female guitar player?’ I mean, what? Really? You just asked me that? Why don’t you ask me how I got this sound? There was not one question about equipment, about our approach to writing — it was all fluff. There were questions about make-up and diets. That kind of stuff, it wears on you.”

And while they enjoyed the occasional singles success — “Charity Ball” reached the Top 40 in 1971 — Reprise was disappointed with the band’s album sales. “They were worried that we weren’t selling. We were selling 60,000 units per album, but that wasn’t enough, I guess,” Millington sighs. “So they wanted us to expose more of our bodies, that kind of stuff. It wasn’t enough to be just — ‘just,’ in quotes — a great band. It was exasperating. Beyond exasperating, honestly.”

“I think we were just ahead of the curve. I feel like we were trying to do intelligent rock, but people were not ready to listen,” she adds, noting that no one seemed to be able to put the novelty of the band’s gender aside. “I think the damage done to us from a society that wasn’t ready to receive us, is really what did us in. The lack of confidence, and the infighting within the band… just got to be too much for me. But to leave was really hard.”

Millington left Fanny in 1974, and the group broke up the following year. She pursued a solo career, produced records by artists like Cris Williamson and Holly Near, and co-founded the Institute for the Musical Arts, a nonprofit supporting women and girls in music. For a long time, her days with Fanny were too painful to revisit.

But that changed with the release of the Fanny box set First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings (Rhino Handmade) in 2002. Listening to the music as the set was being prepared gave her a new appreciation for what Fanny accomplished. “I started to listen to the stuff because I had to. And then I wrangled my way, me and Jean, to be there for the mastering, and we then listened to all of it again. And I realized, ‘Yeah, this is really good stuff!’”

The internet has also led people to Fanny’s door; on YouTube, their live version of “Ain’t That Peculiar” on the Beat Club channel has over two and a half million views. “I get notes from people all the time,” says Millington. “Messages from people about how they remember where they were the first time they heard Fanny, who talk about having seen us live, or people discovering the band: ‘I just heard you, and I can’t believe I didn’t know about you!’ And so that makes me feel good, and I think that has given me a huge clue as to, okay, yeah, we really did do something that other people find valuable.”

Millington eventually chronicled her Fanny experience in her fascinating 2015 memoir, Land of a Thousand Bridges: Island Girl in a Rock & Roll World (which she’s now turning into an audio book, as well as writing a second memoir). A documentary about the band is also in the works.

Fanny might not have gotten the commercial breakthrough they hoped for. But their impact turned out to reach beyond the heights of the Top 40 – their efforts helped change perceptions of women in rock, by the simple act of picking up an electric guitar and plugging in.

“What a hard-working band we were,” Millington says. “We were working every single day, and working hard at it. And you can hear it even now. We always hoped we’d have a hit record. But it was more the destiny thing; we definitely felt that destiny calling us. And so we had to do it. And people are really finding the value in Fanny, and the work that we did. So that’s pretty incredible.”

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