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That's Not What I Heard

(Kill Rock Stars; US: 23 Jan 2001)

The dirty-guitar chord progression in the first’s track’s opening seconds makes it clear where the Gossip is at musically. This is the blues, as deep and thick as it gets, powered by a punk-rock tempo and get-it-all-out, raw vocals. Coming to us from Searcy, Arkansas, via the punk/indie mecca of Olympia, Washington, the Gossip make a powerfully good impression on their debut CD That’s Not What I Heard.

The music here is the blues, and so is the subject matter. Plain and simple, it’s a heavy dose of lust and betrayal. The first track, “Swing Low”, finds the lead singer, Beth, growling, “What’s shaking, honey? Your body has to know”—and that gives you a good clue to where her head will be at for the next 20 minutes or so. The lyrics are direct and bratty throughout, as the blues should be. One song starts, “I knew this woman named Pretty, she was a two-timing son of a gun,” continuing the blues’ habit of telling people’s stories. Another has her offering, “I’ll be your Mrs., be your mistress/girl, I’ll even tell your mother.”

The blues is an old art form, and the Gossip have it down. They don’t tinker with the blues, they take it over and make it their own. The age of the blues means that many of the younger blues acts of today are treading water, playing the patterns but not putting their souls into it. For a new blues act to succeed, as far as I’m concerned, there’s got to be a heavy dose of the new interacting with the familiar. The Gossip have large shares of both. They’ve got the tradition down, but they add a punk-rock attitude, uplifting musical energy, and a fresh lyrical perspective. They’ve taken a male-dominated genre (as, unfortunately, most genres are) and overhauled it with a woman’s perspective. Lyrically, these are songs from women, about women, directed to women, but they’re set within the usual territory of the blues, both musically and in terms of subject matter.

The Gossip apparently made a big impression last summer opening for Sleater-Kinney on tour. Judging by this CD, I can understand how they’d have the potential to blow audiences away. That’s Not What I Heard sounds as fresh and full of life as most live performances, so I’d imagine the real-life experience offers nothing less. In 24 brief minutes, The Gossip take a fast-and-furious approach to the blues, and will knock you off your feet before you realize what’s going on.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Tagged as: gossip
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