various artists,
Indiegrrl Compilation CD Vol. 1
(Indiegrrl Records, 1999)

Even the title of this CD, Indiegrrl Compilation CD Vol. 1, provokes a feeling of uneasiness even as it calls me to pull on my steel-toed combat boots, black jeans and "Mawrtyr" T-shirt and feel like a Strong Woman. The term "grrl" originated on the Web and is most often used to indicate a site devoted to and created by women, and in the male-dominated computer universe, they are certainly welcome. Too many female musicians, however, or almost any wannabe pop-culture icon, have felt the call of "grrl"-dom. Instead of becoming a category that women could be proud to be associated with, anything with that misspelling is avoided because of its association with overbearing feminism without intelligence or talent supporting it.

Many times that association may be wrong and unjust, but all too often whatever site, CD or film has decided it needs that extra snarl does indeed fall short of its intentions.

I had hoped that this CD would be one of those which transcended its name and was actually an interesting collection of female musicians I otherwise would never have heard. Unfortunately, it is not that collection, though I certainly give the musicians points for getting the CD out there. I admire their networking and strength of purpose -- if only the music were more deserving. I tried to forget my preconceptions and listen with open ears, so to speak, but although there are exceptions, most of the cuts come across as just so many clones of the various female stars I'm already getting tired of.

Vivian Slade's "Move" contains all of the trademarks of an Ani-inspired singer, from harsh guitar and a strong beat, which is not particularly damning, to the spoken word/angry scat style of singing, which, as she does it, is. As with many of the songs on the album, the music is fine, although not remarkable, but the lyrics are plodding and drag the music down.

Things feels slightly better as you move on to Susan Court's "Blight & Bonny," which begins with a promising country twang and relatively strong voice. Then, as seems to be the group fate, the lyrics fall flat, floundering without the wit or ability to avoid cliche which allows Ani di Franco, Dar Williams or Sarah McLachlan to hold our attention. Another key element which seems to be lost on these women is a sense of humor, or at least levity. They're all so earnest about their messages that they seem to forget the point is the music.

But to get back to the songs: Holly Figueroa's "What I Miss" and Ariana Daner's "Mystery" echo the dread Alanis and the mournful side of Dar, respectively, without channeling their creative energy or appeal. TagYerit's "Adam and Eve" starts off promisingly (sense a trend?) with some ska-like influence to the beat, but yet again, the lyrics, although full of the requisite religious references indicated in the title, lack any real coherence or heart. Along a similar vein, Deborah Levoy's "Maria" has the admirable message of loving yourself -- or at least it seems to. Mingled into the everyday snapshots of a girl's life provided are overly oblique hints of child abuse -- listening carefully really doesn't help understanding.

Halley De Vestern's "I'll Light Myself on Fire" is a step up, with a strong beat and De Vestern's rich voice, though yet again the chorus, starting with the title phrase, seems to have little connection to the verses.

Strangely enough, but certainly a welcome change, the later songs in the album get much better. Angie Scarr's "Danger Zone" is a little slice of blues which, although I'm not a great blues fan, at least seems to hold its own space well. Amanda Garrigues' voice in "Truth" is strong and clear and the lyrics live up to that voice -- it's the kind of song which might work its way into your subconscious until you find yourself humming it in the grocery line. The song comes across as an eloquent request for compassion: "This world is an uphill ride / And I walk like a child / So please just let me go." The Painted iD's "Revolving Walls" is happily reminiscent of October Project in its combination of guitar and voice, although the electronic wavering added to the back-up vocals feels like a misstep.

Michelle Nagy's "My Dress" joins the earlier disappointments in its earnest blah-ness, the piano causing the song to feel like a Tori-clone. "Three Angels and a Saint," by Left of Memphis, is not particularly offensive, but it seems trapped in a kind of sonambulic state, never gaining enough energy to catch my attention. Heather Russell's "Sonnet" proves that a clear fine voice, some tinkling Irish back-up and borrowing from Shakespeare really can't lead you to a bad song, but doesn't guarantee success, either. Finally, Stefanie Gleit's "Bitterfool" is a lively combination of Irish fiddle and country guitar, and the well-rendered subject of the danger of never taking risks finishes off the album on an upbeat note.

The second half of the album gives me hope for Indiegrrl Compilation Vol. 2, even though all in all, the CD didn't live up to the promise of its title.

[ by Robin Brenner ]