The Chronics have long been a powerful mainstay in the Fort Wayne original music scene - but change is good, and a wee while back the feminine founders decided to try something new by kindly neutering all XY chromosomes from the mix, removing Jerry Miller and his drum kit from the band and adding vocalist Melissa Perkins (although I have it on good authority that none of the members are misandrists). Thus Hoochie Mama Get Down was conceived, eventually giving birth of it's own in the form of Pretty Like A Monster.
The sound of Pretty Like A Monster is in strong contrast to their Chronics days. Not only are drums all but banished from the kingdom, but electric guitars and bass likewise huddle outside the city gates, only occasionally venturing inside for a few brief moments of reckless fun before again being whisked out like an illegitimate child. In their place the listener will find acoustic guitars, luscious vocal harmonies and sparse, yet effective production that lets the strong songwriting speak for itself.
"Cool Rules" opens the album, introducing their new sound with three female vocals harmonizing perfectly against a single acoustic guitar. The melody has a dark edge, and the ethereal production effects give the song a spooky rock vibe. Lighter and faster is "Johnny," the anti-authority song which appeared on Essentials Volume 6. Rose Lazoff's acoustic guitar playing is quite percussive to the point that you don't notice an absence of drums, and Jane Palajac augments the frantic pace with frenetic fret work on a heavily effected acoustic. "Mad Liberation" changes the pace to a chilling and intense torch song. Powerful, passionate vocals (think Ann Wilson at her best) capture your heart while the guitar dances on a miasmic background of swirling nightmarish sounds. Finger-picked acoustic guitar and lush vocal harmonies characterize the pleasant "Mad At You," while "Ratficus" is nearly a solo song with a single, hearty voice singing a folksy melody backed by a lone percussive acoustic. I'm not sure what a French Betty is (and neither was Google), but the Mamas want someone to "be my French Betty" in the worst way. Strummed guitars create a relaxed mood yet the beautiful vocals weave a tale of tension and betrayal - the only way this song could be better is if they added a heart-rending cello to the brief instrumental bridge (but I'm a sucker for cello, so pay no attention to this old biddy). ر
"Dear Prez" is a modern folk song with a single acoustic guitar and a lone voice fervently decrying the perceived injustice of the sitting President. The closing track is from the soundtrack of the upcoming Mike the Pike Films movie Fish In A Barrel. With Jerry Miller on drums and Lazoff on bass, the song is essentially The Chronics with Melissa Perkins, a welcome treat for die-hard fans. As befitting the title and lyrics, the song exudes a bad-girl vibe, sounding sleazy and dangerous with round bass and squawking, fuzzy guitar threatening all who would try to get too close.
If you are very, very brave and you like very, very good music, make sure you attend the CD release party December 6 at 9 p.m. at the original Munchie Emporium downtown. You will not be disappointed by Pretty Like A Monster.