Bloom, Red & The Ordinary Girl

Tres Chicas

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Bloom, Red & The Ordinary Girl Review

by Thom Jurek

Tres Chicas, the country-rock band that includes North Carolina natives Lynn Blakey (Glory Fountain), Caitlin Cary (formerly of Whiskeytown), and Tonya Lamm (Hazeldine), was supposed to be a one-off. Their 2004 debut, Sweetwater, garnered solid reviews and folks turned out in droves to the small venues they played. The trio is now a going concern and Bloom Red and the Ordinary Girl picks up and takes off completely into the stratosphere where that album left off. They left American shores to record this, and enlisted Robert Trehern and Neil Brockbank to produce (the pair work with Nick Lowe a lot). Consequently, Brockbank and a slew of other mates like Bill Kirchen, B.J. Cole, Bob Loveday, and Steve Marwood help out the core band -- Cary on violin, Blakey on acoustic guitar, and Lamm on electric guitar -- with the addition of Geraint Watkins on piano and organ (on loan from the Van Morrison band), Matt Radford on bass, and Trehern on drums. The music is simply the finest set of country-rock love songs you're likely to hear. It's tough, mysterious, and utterly feminine. The trio's voices are way upfront, presiding over a set of originals and covers that are deeply moving, even startling, in their earthy elegance. The opening cut "Drop Me Down" comes from the North Carolina band Lou Ford, and in Tres Chicas' reading of it, could easily have been done by Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels and Emmylou Harris with a gospel choir. To be truthful, it's devastatingly beautiful. Another cover, "If You Think That It's All Right," which is the book-end piece that closes the disc, is by '70s pop-country star Johnny Carver. Here, strains of pub rock, Nash Vegas countrypolitan, and skiffle blend and smear, held together by vocal performances that are breathtaking. Another cover, "My Love," written by Watkins, is a mid-tempo, folk-country weeper that could be the finest cut on the set. It's lyric is so visceral and simple it could have been written by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Tres Chicas, with sparse percussion to accompany Watkins' piano-organ and background slab-back acoustic guitars, weave a soundscape behind the instruments that brings this song of ardor and devotion home. But these women are fine songwriters in their own right, too. Blakey's "Red," is a country waltz that comes from the heart of the mountain valley, it echoes the British folk tradition of three centuries ago. It's a weeper that will make listeners smile with its grimacing anger. Cary's "Stone Love Song" is indeed that, but it's a swing number that evokes smoky lounges, jukeboxes, and a pool table, but more than these one can picture in the mind's eye couples swaying together on a parquet dancefloor, getting closer and closer to one another. Martin Winning's clarinet enters in the chorus, it transcends the country genre almost entirely except for the slightly out-of-tune fiddle, which is covered by strings and tasty electric guitar lines. The piano solo brings jazz into the picture, and the song just drifts into the nocturnal void where lovers entwine under the drifting moonlight. Picture the Andrews Sisters singing a country swing tune and you begin to get it. Tres Chicas have thrown down the gauntlet to the entire Americana genre. They had to go to Britain to make this record, because they could never have achieved the subtlety needed to make this sound in the States. But in doing so, they've created an utterly American album. They blend and weave styles and modes and colors, effortlessly and in concert with one another. The singing blows away virtually everything in the genre, and the execution here offers a watermark that will be tough to beat. Essentially, they've transcended Americana and gone into the realms where country music has always sought to go -- to a plain with equal footings in pop, jazz, and swing -- and Tres Chicas have achieved these realms gracefully.

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