Judy Henske, "Big Fat Man" (Fair Star).
Marianne Faithfull, "Before the Poison" (Anti-). iTunes
Eleni Mandell, "I Love Paris" (iTunes). iTunes
Jarboe, "I Got a Gun" (Atavistic; originally released 1992). eMusic
Bleach 03, "My Sweet Angel and I Considered the Aesthetics of the Black Pen" (Australian Cattle God).
Loraxx, "419" (Automatic Combustioneer).
The Peppermints, "I Lost It" (Paw Tracks). iTunes
Kevin Blechdom, "Invisible Rock" (Chicks on Speed). iTunes
Anubian Lights, "Andromeda Skin" (Rhythmbank). iTunes
Gabby La La, "Twins" (Prawn Song). iTunes
Yo La Tengo, "Dreaming" (Matador). iTunes
The Ronettes, "Be My Baby" (ABKCO; originally released 1963). iTunes
I'm not a Lilith girl. Ethereal layers of chiffon and satin don't suit me. Give me a frayed hem and a woman's voice made husky from Makers Mark and unfiltered smokes. Give me helium instead of oxygen. Give me gap-toothed imperfection. Give me Diane Arbus.
Standing more than 6 feet tall, "Queen of the Beatniks" Judy Henske embraces every curve of her full-figured voice. In the '60s, Henske's bawdy talkin' Ethel Merman blues played against the willowy type of folk revivalists Joan and Joni. Forty years later, she's just as frank about her vices, wishing out loud for a "big, fat man with meat shaking on his bones." I'd smoke a pack a day if it meant I could sound like Marianne Faithfull. She may've given up cigarettes, but their remnants resonate in every note. After chameleonic changes between cabaret and country, Eleni Mandell hints at her punky L.A. upbringing when she takes on Cole Porter. She may be heard accompanying Paris Hilton and a car (and soap) in an ad for Carl's Jr., but her gusto recalls Audrey Hepburn's romp through a Left Bank cafe in Funny Face. Jarboe is one Swan Truman Capote would follow to the Bowery. The industrial avatar puts her theatrical training to use by masking her voice and multitracking her Southern drawl; sounding like she'd rather smother herself with a pillow than harmonize.
Japan's Bleach 03 and San Diego's Peppermints sing do-re-mi with falsetto screams and sneezing enunciation. They charge into the wreckage of punk and metal and dumpster-dive for pop melodies, counterbalancing Chicago's Arista Strungys, bassist/vocalist of power-trio Loraxx. Their new Selfs, as well as their other albums, were recorded by Steve Albini, and Strungys emulates his signature snarl from the get-go.
If I may play heroine for a day, please let me be Anubian Lights' Adele Bertei. In the space of 3:30, Bertei, original Contortions keyboardist and the Electric Barbarella, does CrazySexyAlien without a blink between takes. Bertei may find her love child in sitar phenom Gabby La La, with vox filched from Betty Boop and Tim Burton's colorful imagination. Gabby's Rockland sorority sister could be Berlin-based Kristin "Kevin Blechdom" Erickson, whose electro-torch songs ricochet from the padded walls.
Extraordinary in her ordinariness, Georgia Hubley's lullaby vocal on this previously unreleased Yo La Tengo track is a teardrop in the puddle of some forgettable fuzz. Finally, there's Ronnie Spector, our classicist, Rizzo to Pink Ladies the Angels and the Chiffons. It may be Hal Blaine's kick drum that kick-started so many careers, but Ronnie's character bleeds through this and every Ronettes song. She's an Arbus archetype if ever there was one.
Kate Silver is the managing editor of ROCKRGRL.