The Upshot: Vinyl alert! Twangy garage and off-kilter country as wielded by an utterly original voice who’s backed by a fearless group of musicians.
BY FRED MILLS
An album that gets better and more riotously fun with each successive spin, Bad Girl teams Chapel Hill singer-songwriter Reese McHenry (formerly of Dirty Little Heaters) with Tarheel garage-skronksters the Spider Bags for a sonic summit that not only plays to the respective strengths of all the players, it also finds them pushing one another outside their comfort zones and discovering new skills. It’s a collaboration in the truest sense of the word, too, with some songs written by McHenry, some by the Bags’ Dan McGee, some jointly by the pair, and some by other writers. (McGee also acts as the project’s producer, and the ever-talented Wesley Wolfe handles engineering duties.)
Opening track “Bad Girl” is explosive enough and sets the stage perfectly. Penned by Lee Moses, it serves as a personal manifesto for McHenry, who croons, moans, and wails her titular self-assessment with enough vim ‘n’ vigor that you quickly learn to believe her. The band, abetted by Clarque Blomquist on piano and Ben Riseling on sax, initially conjures a vintage ‘50s vibe that gradually turns rowdy, like a libation-fueled gathering that progresses well into the wee hours. Twangy garageabilly raveup “On the 45” follows, boasting a kind of Panther Burns-meets-Southern Culture on the Skids ambiance. And the hits just keep coming—the careening romp that is “Mexico City”; the pedal steel-powered, straight-up country-tonk ballad “Painter Man’s Blues” (one of four tunes featuring Caitlin Cary on backing vocals); a sassy shuffle, “Bomb,” that revs and roars until you can practically see the stage collapsing from the collective impact of all the stomping feet; and closing number “The Rose of Monmouth County” that lets all assembled let loose in a noise orgy that somehow manages to retain a tender edge—testimony, no doubt, to McHenry’s utterly convincing skills at the mic.
She’s one part Lucinda Williams (in her unusual phrasing-drawl), one part Frazey Ford (in her signature high-range warble), and several parts tent revival preacher in the throes of a laying-on-of-hands possession. And Bad Girl just might be the most unique musical artifact you’ll hear out of North Carolina all year.
DOWNLOAD: “Mexico City,” “On the 45,” “The Rose of Monmouth County”