By Drew Williams
Eight Belles, the Oakland, California-based group led by the Michigan farm girl, Jessi Phillips dredges out the very rural sounding, Girls Underground. Housewives with guns, horses, the hidden complexities of seemingly simple folks and the lingering estrangement from city life are some of the most noticeable and pervasive themes woven into the album. Girls Underground is strikingly simple and somewhat traditional in it’s musical orientation and yet, unconvincing.
“Buried Child”, the opener, is an all too familiar sounding song with a peculiar female vocal twang at the foreground of a finger-picked acoustic guitar line. The imagery of the song and the intent is relatively endearing, thankfully, but the vocal performance could be more spirited (as throughout) and the mixing could be enhanced to properly orient and accentuate Miss Phillips’ vocals. Some pleasing musical moments do lie ahead, though. “Dirty Habit” provides the most sonic arousal with beautiful violin and pedal steel interplay.
It is “Great White Sea” that stands as possibly the most potent track that combines Phillips’ lyrical prowess, passable positioning of her compromising vocal inflections, along with the raucous, old-timey country-rock guitar that so distinctly brands Eight Belles’ sound.
The closing track, “Most Of The Time,” would be a stale note to end on if not for the best and most raw guitar performance of the entire album. Nevertheless, the dynamic intensity of this song isn’t quite enough to make you feel you weren’t very impressed or stirred most of the time spent listening to the other songs.
Overall, Girls Underground is unremarkable. There are really no new sounds or lyrical themes to be found here – only the minor intrigue you may find in observing old ways and layman musicianship fighting and struggling to survive in an ever-changing musical climate. Perhaps there still exists a niche for this plaintive, primitive style of music. But, without a more adept attempt to innovate and expand, this type of sound will only dissipate and dissolve into the American music repertoire as a mere side note.