Mixed Bag from Talented Bay Area Quartet
Speeding Ticket and a Valentine
(Ninth Street Opus)
US: 3 May 2011
UK: 3 May 2011
Bay Area quartet Blame Sally play a variety of country-tinged folk rock, or maybe it’s rock-tinged country-folk, that makes good use of each band member’s particular talents. Guitarist Renee Harcourt, drummer Pam Delgado, and pianist Monica Pasqual take turns at lead vocal duties, with bass player/guitarist Jeri Jones contributing to the silky four-part harmonies. This variety results in a generally satisfying blend of sounds and song styles, with a few less-than-compelling missteps. Although a few too many tunes veer into AOR blandness, there is enough skill and uniqueness on display here to catch the attention of many listeners.
Album opener “Bird in Hand” is one of the record’s strongest tracks, with Pasqual’s breathy vocals floating above fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a shuffing rhythm. The harmonies, when they arrive, add to the urgency rather than diluting it with saccharine sweetness (which happens on other songs). Twangy guitar and understated fiddle add to the effect, as do slide guitar and subtle keyboard accents on follow-up number “Big Big Bed”. Delgado’s voice is more muscular than Pasqual’s and it suits this song better, at least until the poppy chorus, which unravels much of the tune’s propulsive urgency.
And so it goes. The remainder of the album waffles between crunchy, powerful folk-country-rock songs (yay!) and power pop of an inoffensive but generally unmemorable type (boo!). “Living Without You” is an example of the latter—for God’s sake, with those shimmery guitars and velvety harmonies, it sounds like a Go-Go’s reunion, and that’s not a good thing. Watery ballad “Mona Lisa with a Smile” isn’t much better. But then comes along “Pajaros Sin Alos”, with its jittery percussion and accordion undercurrent to make everything all right again. How come half the song is sung in Spanish? Beats me. Sounds good, though.
Anyway, it sounds a hell of a lot better than the opening lines of “Throw Me a Bone”: “I don’t want to compromise, I want to look into your eyes / I don’t want to be in my head, let’s make love in the bed”. Oy! But then, just when you’re ready to say the hell with it, “Back in the Saddle” introduces the slow, downbeat but lovely story of a woman refusing to give up, and then “Countdown” rocks with genuine vigor. I’m not sure what this one’s supposed to be about—“everybody’s killing everybody” is a typically oblique lyric—but with gurgling organ, half-shouted harmonies, and squalling guitar solos, I’m happy to put up with nonsensical lines about “sex terror and God and money money”.
With this, their third studio album after 2007’s Severland and 2009’s Night of 1000 Stars, Blame Sally is hoping the break into the big time. It remains to be see whether Speeding Ticket and a Valentine is the record to do that. The musicians have undeniable chops, and it’s certainly refreshing to hear a group of women making music who are neither dolled up manniquins nor self-conscious riot grrl throwbacks. The record itself is a mixed bag, though, and the band would do well to filter out some of its lazier musical and lyrical moments.