Action Packed 

"Girls" live up to name

"Girls" live up to name

The band Girls in Action may be mostly guys in drag, but what it lacks in girls it makes up in action. You don’t get to see many glam-punk bubblegum bands play at Springwater, let alone a diva in a feather boa thumping out Electric Prunes covers on bass, backed by three guys in glitter makeup. And yet there they were at a recent Saturday-night Working Stiff Jamboree, staggering sloppily through ”Get Me to the World on Time“ and trying to keep their wigs from drooping.

\From their customary intro, ”Good Evening From the Girls in Action (Attention Peons),“ all the way through their no-fi renditions of the Stooges’ ”Little Doll“ and Loretta Lynn’s ”The Pill,“ Girls in Action stakes out an odd little corner of Nashville music: a world where grimy three-chord punk, protofeminist country, and transvestism aren’t treated as undesirable roommates but embraced as family. At its best, the quartet almost convinces you there’s a continuum of outsider sexual aggression and reinvent-yourself theatricality broad enough to include both Iggy and Loretta, not to mention Marc Bolan and arena metal. With a little more confidence and practice, maybe the band won’t fall back so easily on nudge-nudge ironies, the last refuge of hipsters afraid of falling on their faces.

The band doesn’t have much more to offer at this early juncture but novelty—they’ve only been playing since September—but man, are they novel. Lead singer/bassist Jenny GA, the only girl in Girls in Action, belts out ”T.N.T.“ and ”Your Squaw Is on the Warpath Tonight“ with artless fervor, as guitarists Professor Zoom GA and T. Rex GA clang away in near-unison. All the while, Drummer X GA 4000 hunches over his tiny kit like a giant stuffed in a phone booth.

Girls in Action joins a great lineup of underground rock and transgressive-folk bands Saturday at Joe’s Diner, where the elite meet to eat on Eastland Ave. The folk ensemble The Cherry Blossoms performs a set, along with bluesman John Smiff XXV, Laurel Parton’s band Trauma Team, and Dave Cloud’s Gospel of Power. Rest assured that Jenny GA and Dave Cloud are busy at work rehearsing a cover of Conway and Loretta’s ”Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,“ but if that fails they can always dust off ”Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.“ Show time is 8 p.m.

Forget late frosts, freak snowstorms, and that rascally El Niño; it must be spring if some band is throwing a house party. En route to Austin’s South by Southwest festival next weekend, New York’s rockin’ country band The Hangdogs stops over for a few days in Nashville. Their winsome, convincingly twangy CD East of Yesterday features the group’s manifesto, ”They Don’t Play No Country on the East Side of New York,“ as well as ”Hey Janeane,“ the video for which features dreamy sourpuss Janeane Garofalo and a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Hangdogs have several appearances booked here during their stay, including a guest spot on Christi Ray’s ”Buried Treasures“ show Monday night on WANT-FM (98.9 FM) and a slot on Billy Block’s Western Beat Roots Revival Tuesday at Zanies. But the band will take time out for a secret house party somewhere off Music Row Monday night. The only way you can get directions is to call Traci Thomas at Grass Roots Media. (By the way, we’ll settle this once and for all: Traci Thomas is not Traci Todd, the host of WRVU’s ”George, the Bluegrass Show“—even though they both drive Ford Explorers. Still, we’ve never seen them photographed together. Hmmm.) That number is 340-9596.

—Jim Ridley

Duke Robillard goes against the latest trends in modern American music: He’s a masterful, award-winning guitarist in an era when the guitar is losing its dominance; and he’s a diehard blues and swing aficionado at a time when blues music has been relegated to the barroom stage.

Perhaps that’s why Robillard, who is nominated for a 1998 W.C. Handy Award for best blues guitarist, hasn’t received the recognition he deserves for his recent album, Dangerous Place. A smart, swinging affair that comes across as both swaggering and suave, the album offers a compelling survey of uptown blues styles, with an emphasis on jump blues and horn-driven swing. Buoyed by Robillard’s sharply written originals, Dangerous Place also features some of the crispest, most accomplished ensemble playing released on record in the last year.

Robillard and his current band—drummer Marty Richards, bassist John Packer, baritone saxophonist Doug James, and tenor saxophonist Dennis Taylor—rank with Gatemouth Brown’s recent touring group as one of the best modern purveyors of the sophisticated blues style made famous by T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner. Even if his albums go unduly ignored, Robillard’s talents are getting recognized at least by other musicians. He appeared on Bob Dylan’s Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind album, as well as on Ruth Brown’s Grammy-nominated blues album, R+B=Ruth Brown. He also produced two other jump blues albums worth seeking out: legendary pianist Jay McShann’s 1997 release, Hootie’s Jumpin’ Blues, and the late Jimmy Witherspoon’s 1995 collection, Spoon’s Blues.

A founder of Roomful of Blues, and Jimmie Vaughan’s replacement in the Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1991, Robillard is one of the few bluesmen in the ’90s whose work approaches the best of the tradition he upholds. Live, he should be a truckload of fun. He and his band make a rare Nashville appearance Monday at Caffé Milano.

About 30 minutes into a musician-heavy memorial for Ingrid Herman Reese at the Station Inn on March 2, her son Tom Littlefield stepped onstage to apologize for the delay in beginning the evening of spoken eulogies and musical tributes. ”Apparently, the preacher is a no-show,“ Littlefield cracked, shaking his head and flashing a sardonic grin. Then, in a tone full of love and wicked wit, he added, ”My mother would have loved that.“

God may not have been represented, but one hell of a heavenly band showed. In a testimonial to Reese’s standing among acoustic musicians, the Station Inn was packed with the well-known and the little-known. It was a fitting tribute, for Reese helped found the club in the early ’70s, when it was in its original West End location.

Most of those at the gathering shared one of Reese’s life-defining characteristics: her love for performing and experiencing live music. During the many eulogies, people repeatedly mentioned Reese’s laugh, a sound that rang out loud and often whenever she was among friends. The daughter of famed big-band leader Woody Herman, and a well-respected and well-traveled fiddler, Reese played a central role in developing several bluegrass communities—in Los Angeles in the ’60s, in San Francisco in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and in Nashville in the ’70s and early ’80s. Wherever she went, Reese became loved for her open spirit, her frank words, her ribald humor, and her encouragement of other musicians, many of whom benefited directly from her generosity.

”I couldn’t believe how many calls I received,“ said Littlefield, a Nashville songwriter and former leader of the rock band The Questionnaires. ”And I couldn’t believe how many of those people, some of whom she hadn’t seen in years, called specifically to say how important my mother had been to them, that they’d have never made it in music if it wasn’t for mom’s help or support or encouragement. There was something about her that made her really good at encouraging people to go for it, and she’d do anything she could to help them get going or keep at it.“

She performed in several bands, most notably one of the first all-female bluegrass bands, the artfully named Bushwhackers, with Ginger Boatwright, Kathy Chiavola, Susie Monick, and April Barrows. She logged time as a member of Blue Haze with Alan O’Bryant and Blaine Sprouse and as a member of the Shin-Bone All-Stars with Ed Dye; she also toured as a road musician with The Campbell Trio and The Whites.

Reese died on Feb. 21 at age 56, after a brief battle with cancer. A Feb. 28 memorial service in Los Angeles sponsored by the musician’s union drew more than 600 people, including prominent jazz, acoustic, and pop players. The Station Inn service, which found a large throng of musicians dropping in throughout the evening to pay respects, included members of Riders in the Sky, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and the Del McCoury Band, country music performers Kim Richey and Jack Ingram, and Rising Tide Records president Ken Levitan.

That no-account preacher doesn’t know what he missed.

—Michael McCall

Elliptical dispatches: Circle Tuesday, March 24, on your calendar for an always welcome Nashville appearance by the guitar-slinging Blonde Bomber, Ronnie Dawson. Dawson plays the closing slot (would you want to follow him?) at Billy Block’s Western Beat Roots Revival, which recently celebrated its second anniversary in Nashville.

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