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By GINA VIVINETTO, BRIAN ORLOFF, PETER A. COUTURE and JOHN FLEMING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


GIRLS WITH GUITARS

Take solace, music lovers. There is an alternative to frat boy rap-rock and backward baseball hats. Tired of the crotch grabbing, the testosterone, the idiotic songs about nookie (or worse) and those radio hits celebrating violence, misogyny and hatred?

Some very insightful girls with guitars are sick of it, too.

Give an ear to these women and their music, which explores gender issues, society, sexuality, and sometimes, yes, just plain old fun.

-- GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

* * *

AMY RAY, STAG (DAEMON RECORDS) Amy Ray is not content to be just one of the girls. On hiatus from her main project, folk duo the Indigo Girls, Ray packed up the Girls' folky sound and tight harmonies and retired them to discover her unique musical styling. On her debut solo album, with guest musicians from Luscious Jackson, the Butchies and the Breeders, Ray delves into the rock 'n' roll world. She blends rock, punk and folk, spitting it all out in a furious manner on 10 songs of heartbreak, struggle and defiance.

On Stag, Ray gets personal, allowing the music to channel her resentment of the music industry. (Tired of commercial music, Ray created her own record label, Daemon Records, 11 years ago to celebrate independent Southern music.) In releasing her solo album on Daemon, Amy has brought her high hopes to fruition. However, that isn't enough. No, Amy wants to rub her success in and grind it around, especially in the faces of those nay-sayers. On Lucystoners, a bitter invective aimed at Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, Ray cries that Wenner "gave the boys what they deserve and with the girls he lost his nerve."

Several slower tunes with a less angst-ridden edge populate the album also. Especially elegant is Measure of Me, which unfolds with subtlety and full-bodied grace.

Ray proves she can drop the "F" word as well as the next fellow. She's foul and tough, and she likes it her way. Oh yeah, lest I forget, the musicianship is top-notch too. Grade: A-

-- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent

* * *

DOLLY PARTON, LITTLE SPARROW (SUGAR HILL) Let us now praise Dolly Parton. Having remade herself as a bluegrass artist on 1999's The Grass Is Blue, Dolly continues -- no, builds on -- her foray into the music on Little Sparrow. If it doesn't quite hold together as well as the earlier work, it comes close and, in doing so, takes a few more musical chances.

Parton has eclectic tastes and -- unlike the current flavors of the month on country radio -- she doesn't confuse arena rock with country music. That's why she's able to engrave her signature on a rock song such as Collective Soul's Shine. For that matter, she swings like the Hot Club of France on Cole Porter's I Get a Kick Out of You and infuses her own Marry Me and the traditional In the Sweet By and By with a timeless quality that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' latest work of quirky Americana. Grade: B+

-- PETER A. COUTURE, Times staff writer

SOUND BITES

Check out these punk rock chicks:

* * *

THE GOSSIP, THAT'S NOT WHAT I HEARD (KILL ROCK STARS) On the mighty Kill Rock Stars label, home to punk rock queens Sleater-Kinney, the Gossip, also from Olympia, Wash., is a good-time boy-girl trio specializing in sloppy no-frills punkabilly. The band's secret weapon? Beth, its 19-year-old singer, who's proudly fat, lesbian and feeling oh-so-sexy on songs such as Bring It On, Where the Girls Are and Got Body If You Want It. You said it, sister! Grade: B.

-- G.V.

* * *

LE TIGRE, FROM THE DESK OF MR. LADY (MR. LADY) Not as breathtaking as Le Tigre's debut -- that would be tough to pull off again -- this follow-up EP from former Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna and her cohorts continues Hanna's mission of saving the world -- one enlightened riot grrrl at a time. Le Tigre's sound is lo-fi: bouncy, fun, like a Casio keyboard at a slumber party, belying Le Tigre's tough politics. Songs urge folks to get off the Internet and "destroy the right wing." Mediocrity Rules pokes fun at the modern man's caveman mentality with its delicious "yabba dabba dude" chorus. Grade: B+

-- G.V.

* * *

THE BUTCHIES, 3 (MR. LADY) From Durham, N.C., the Butchies are a tough, rocking self-described "lesbocore" trio. Former Team Dresch guitarist/singer Kaia Wilson again sings sweetly over monster licks. Her specialty is still painting vivid stories with subject matter that's hilarious when it's not breaking your heart. Junior High Lament is the tale of a tomboy who gets beaten up at school. Cheer up with the giddy Anything Anthology, an over-the-top Zeppelin-esque ode to classic rock. Grade: B+.

-- G.V.

* * *

SWEENEY TODD LIVE; NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC/ANDREW LITTON, CONDUCTOR (NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC SPECIAL EDITIONS) -- Sweeney Todd is the Psycho of musical theater, and not just because the title character, the demon barber of Fleet Street, puts his razors (My Friends) to murderous use in the tradition of Anthony Perkins at the shower curtain. From the piercing factory whistle that sounds the class-conflict theme to the lyrical ambiguity of Pretty Women, Stephen Sondheim's score is a sonic thriller-diller, a roller coaster of dynamic contrast and harmonic complexity. It's musical theater as opera.

This is a tremendous recording of the staged concerts of Sweeney Todd presented last May by the New York Philharmonic, with a dream cast of musical theater and opera singers giving their all to mark Sondheim's 70th birthday. The only other recording is the original cast album of the 1979 show.

George Hearn and Patti LuPone play Sweeney and his pie-baking co-conspirator in cannibalism, Mrs. Lovett. Hearn (a late substitute for an indisposed Bryn Terfel) gives a rich, nuanced performance of a man consumed by revenge. LuPone, in duets with Hearn, ranges from over-the-top hilarious (A Little Priest) to touchingly vulnerable (By the Sea).

Davis Gaines and Heidi Grant Murphy play the young lovers who survive the carnage. Audra McDonald is the heartbreaking Beggar Woman. As simple-minded Tobias Ragg, Neil Patrick Harris has a sweet duet with LuPone, Not While I'm Around.

The New York Philharmonic does not often delve into musical theater (only Sondheim's Follies in 1985 and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! in 1968 have received similar concert treatment), and it is a treat to hear Sondheim's dark masterpiece get its due, with Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director Andrew Litton conducting. The two-CD set comes with a 130-page booklet that includes the libretto. It costs $45 and may be ordered from the Philharmonic at (800) 557-8268 or through its Web site at http://www.newyorkphilharmonic.org. Grade: A

-- JOHN FLEMING, Times performing arts critic

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