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BEST SONGWRITER Minneapolis 2000 - Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears

Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears are damned and sainted with the same descriptive tag: "thespian." This seems to imply that the band and its frontwoman, Steph Dickson, value drama over what's called "songcraft," presence over substance. Sure, it's hard to argue there isn't a good actor behind the mic on a tune such as "B.A.D.B.O.YS." On this track, chief songwriter Dickson sings her rant, "Some people think bad boys are bad/That bad boys are babies in the head/Babies in the head need a mommy on the tit!" with such hilarious relish that you miss the insight of her John Lydon-style moans: "I don't want a nice boy/I don't want to have to be nice to that nice boy." Dickson--in collaboration with keyboardist Tom Siler (of the Odd), bassist Andy McCormick, and drummer Dave Wiegardt--is a high vulgarian. She's not just rewriting "Gary's Got a Boner" for women; the riot grrrls took care of that years ago. She's doing Jonathan Richman from the point of view of the subjects in his songs, and singing rock 'n' roll sweet-little-drunken-spitfire anthems from inside the characters. She always sounds trapped in a rock song (though Siler's arrangements are more like showtunes), which allows her to be serious and satiric at once without winking and nudging--or masking her dark edges. "Good night, parents, it's time to sleep," her teen binge-drinker sings before sneaking out to the wrong side of the tracks. Maybe the boors who don't get her should sit this one out--goodnight, people.

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