Rachel Sweet

Fool Around

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If Stiff Records wanted to market Rachel Sweet as an ironic sex symbol, they succeeded only at the irony of forbidden fruit; the picture of her on the back of this disc in a rugby shirt and jeans, head cocked, hands on hips, could grace the cover of Lolita's next edition. Sweet was fully sweet 16 in 1978, though, and pictures aside, "the little girl with the big voice," as the bosses billed her, lived up to that description. Belting, whooping, pleading, and near-weeping through the speakers, she rides the crest of Liam Sternberg and his Spector-ized production (that feel of a marching brass band keeping warm on a snowy morning), embodying the tough, rowdy sides of Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson, though not so genre-bound as the latter. Sternberg's "Wildwood Saloon" and Elvis Costello's letter-perfect "Stranger in My House" hearken back to Sweet's childhood country records, but Carla Thomas' gleeful "B-A-B-Y," Del Shannon's mournfully up-tempo "I Go to Pieces," and Dusty Springfield's desperate "Stay Awhile" pulsate into new life through her throat, a crackerjack band including Brinsley Schwartz and Lene Lovich swirling faithfully along. Another Sternberg original, "Who Does Lisa Like?," opens with, "Sittin' around in the Firestone parking lot/It's alright!," and climaxes by insisting on the primacy of the title question over starvation in India and war in Baghdad. Only a true believer touched with the power of imputing her true belief could run that one back for a touchdown.

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