In the pre-Lilith Fair days, modern rock radio stations gave their fair share of space to such musicians and Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair, and groups like Belly. Little significance was placed on the fact that these were all women. Instead, the wave of independently minded rock gave them a place to be heard. They were just musicians, first and foremost.
But after Lilith Fair and the Spice Girls, the concept of women in music had changed dramatically, and the interest given to women who played straightforward rock faded, despite the fact their talent never diminished. Their fans continued to pay attention, but few others did.
Gentle Readers’ third album, HiHoney will unfortunately go unheard by most, but it joyfully recalls the days when women musicians were simply admired, and no attention was paid to their gender.
Lead singer Susan Fitzsimmons (who also plays guitar and percussion for the band) has a slightly sultry but sweet voice that exudes self-confidence while simultaneously aching with longing. She sings boldly over crunchy guitar riffs and hard-hitting percussion. While it is her voice that carries HiHoney, it barely seems to matter that she’s a woman. She’s just the lead singer of a band.
From the dreamily taut “Lunchhour” to the vulnerable “Sweetest Taboo,” Gentle Readers deal with the conflict in everyday relationships. Witty and fun while still acknowledging the darker moments of life, Gentle Readers have written intelligent and perceptive songs. “Are you telling me there’s nothing you can do? This time I’m really asking” Fitzsimmons sighs on “Nothing You Can Do.” In “California Pt. 2,” she declares “You were never that gifted. I was never that dumb” in a call to a lost lover. Each one of the songs on HiHoney is filled with such insights.
Gentle Reader’s HiHoney has a great deal of substance to offer to those who nostalgically remember that brief period when women musicians just got to be who they were and not leaders for a cause. Their blend of folk and rock is surprisingly as refreshing as it would have been few years ago. Music needs more bands like Gentle Readers.