REVIEW: Vickikristinabarcelona: “Pawn Shop Radio” Reworks the Songs of Tom Waits with Exceptional Style


Vickikristinabarcelona – Pawn Shop Radio – Reworks the Songs of Tom Waits

Vicki Kristina Barcelona (spelled as one long word) is a play on words from a similar Woody Allen film. The 3 ladies responsible for this are multi-instrumentalists: NY’s Rachelle Garniez, London’s Amanda Homi & Brooklyn’s Terry Radigan. What have they done? Well…

They re-imagined & interpreted 10 well-known Tom Waits classics with virtuosity, ambitious creativity & exceptional style.

They add a feminine perspective with a pinch of beauty & dash of vulnerability. With varied music styles, these ladies provide a fine example of musical expertise & at the same time exemplify the diversity of Tom Waits’ songwriting craft.

From carnival-themed melodies to a Zydeco groove, adding Latin & global rhythms, Brechtian theatrics, girl-group 3-part harmonies, gypsy flavors, cabaret hijinks, traditional Americana roots, trash & tenderness, back-porch shine & minor key embellishments. What a stew is stirred — oh, but’s probably all mud…

No…no…no…it’s not mud. It’s jambalaya. And that’s quite a different gumbo.

Produced & arranged by the trio Pawn Shop Radio, (drops May 29 – Storysound Records) maybe a little too sweet for a Waits’ aficionado. But, while the ladies don’t sing these with a harsh, Louis Armstrong-Captain Beefheart voice their voices are cabaret jaunty, gypsy enlightened, have noir substance & sweeteners — not necessarily sugar.

The group-effort “Cold, Cold Ground,” has harmonica & it’s been reinvented into a 60s girl group masterpiece. “Jersey Girl,” is rehashed with a Latin rhythm — (a classic Waits many thought Springsteen wrote). It’s sung tongue-in-cheek 40s style ala subdued Andrews Sisters & a touch of Bette Midler intonation.

These multi-instrumentalists each contribute marvelously with a myriad of sounds proficiently with each piece listed clearly in the CD. Dominant on “Jersey Girl,” & “Tango Til’ They’re Sore,” is Rachelle’s accordion. “Tango,” borders on the madness mindful of The Tiger Lilies’ (“Hell”) & of course, Brecht-Weill. Terry Radigan’s guitar grinds & crunches & recreates Waits’ industrial melodic atmosphere. (Her excellent Vanguard 2000 solo LP is worth an ear).

What Waits possesses is compositional & lyrical imagination. Something many artists don’t possess. This is what VKB emphasize in their sparkling performance. They are the dark chocolate to Tom’s salty potato chips. These fine female musicians are uniquely qualified.

Their own imaginative ability adds a touch of humorous realism – they are the mischievous child who puts a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Taking Waits’ penetrating melodies, they add the necessary Americana bleach to wash out the whiskey in the laundry & put it out on a line to dry for all to see.

“Gun Street Girl,” & “Innocent When You Dream,” are gorgeous. Near-Roches vocally in approach with a touch of Gillian Welch-Iris DeMent Appalachian authenticity. Each song — so sharp you could shave with it.

Who’s next? Randy Newman?

Criticism? Lyrics for the uninitiated? The package is well-designed, but a lyric insert would’ve been ideal. The 36-minute CD is available at Barnes & Noble.


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