by James Fleming
There’s been an upsurge in the formation of americana bands in the 21st century. Mostly of the indie-americana sort. An often trite and weedy version of the real deal.
Americana is an amalgamation of the various styles of roots music that the US has produced down through the years: blues, gospel, folk, roots-rock, country, it’s all included under the umbrella term of americana.
When done well, it’s a joy to behold. Raw, fiery passion, often fiendish in its simplicity, executed with a deftness of musicianship rare among even the most complex of styles.
Unfortunately, in this day and age it’s often combined with a slickness and a sheen that strips the genre of its raw power. An argument can be made that this is just another take on the style. A modern take on a classic. But, there are those who stand by the notion that americana is at its best naked, just the voice and the instruments.
This is certainly the case with Bonnie Whitmore’s new record F*ck with Sad Girls.
Listening to the album, one is left with the impression that these songs would have been better stripped down to just the lean tissue and the bone. Whitmore is at her best when she cranks it out, as she does on Ain’t Waitin’ On Tomorrow, where the fuzzed up guitar screams out of the speakers, grabs the listener by the hair and drags it behind its horse.
The musicianship is subtle in its virtuosity, and Whitmore’s voice is powerful and soulful. However, these traits have become required in americana. Making the genre even more difficult to pull off. For, in order to really make a mark in the field, these qualities have to be beyond merely impressive. They have to be new.
And that’s the main issue with F*ck with Sad Girls. There’s nothing new. It’s better than “soulful-by-the-numbers,” but, with the addition of something just a little left of centre, the album could have gone from good to great in the blink of an eye.
The lyrics are clearly from the heart “no-one really wants to fuck with sad girls,” goes the chorus on the title track, which also includes the frankly stellar line “no-one wants to see the cracks the make-up doesn’t hide.” And it’s the finer details such as these that ultimately save this record. That keep it from getting caught in the mire of Bonnie Raitt soundalikes.
Speaking of which, Whitmore and her band are at their best when they turn it up and tear into it, just like Raitt. When there’s that tantalising hint of overdrive, when there’s a handful of sand in the voice, that’s when this record shines. Cinderella is a perfect example. So is the aforementioned Ain’t Waitin’ On Tomorrow.
On those tracks, the band is kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Whitmore herself cuts through much better with her pissed-off lyrics here too. When there’s a bit of rage, the songs benefit.
F*ck with Sad Girls is a good record. But it could have been great. There’s still potential in Whitmore’s songwriting and her band’s paying. Here’s to the next record. May it be a step up for them.