By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
NO ROCK & ROLL subgenre is less woman-friendly than alt.country. Even misogyny-sodden hip hop has made room for female voices. Yet, the cock-in-hand college boys who currently make up the nascent No Depression scene go at their punk-country fusion as if Exene Cervenka and Kitty Wells never existed. When women are allowed to step up (see Tarnation's Paula Frazer), they almost always do so as disembodied honky-tonk angels.
Carla Bozulich sings like a honky-tonk wombat, and the band she fronts, L.A.'s Geraldine Fibbers, tattoos punk on country better than any other band since the Mekons. "I've raced through the sky/to whisper a message/into your morphine drip," she sings in the voice of Patti Smith hovering above Americana's deathbed, while Jesse Green's fiddle cries in bathos behind her. On stage Bozulich comes on like a cross between PJ Harvey and a porcupine, diving into her junkie-hooker-performance-artist past to pull out fireballs. The images she hammers home on Butch are equally intense. At the opening of the ringin'/pickin' rave-up "California Tuffy," she free-associates: "A ball of light comes down to bite me on the ass, the legs, the breasts I'm falling from my nest." It's the "breasts" that startle; this may be the first country song in which a woman has sung about them (without saying bosom, at least). "Toybox," the wretched punk song that follows, goes deeper, conflating religion, incest, and a "speculum shoved up my cunt." But it dies in devotion, with Carla yowling above her band's hellbound din: "Daddy what can I do to make you stop crying... Jesus only knows."
Of course, Jesus knows not one fucking thing. And the Fibbers fling themselves between punk's repulsed desire and country's jinxed prayers like fallen Catholic nomads. So their music is scabrous and lovely, swinging on Green's loaded-at-the-funeral viola and violin-sawing, Nels Cline's blood-pretty noise-guitar, and, of course, Carla's crippled-acrobat vocal range. At the height of their hard-core hoedown, the oldest country sentiments--"I was blind but now I see," "I found a reason to live, today"--go out to pasture, and roots-rock hegemony gets plopped down on its ass. Someone should make Kitty Wells a tape.
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