Girls Night Out

Girls Night Out [GNO]

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One of the greatest tragedies in Boston rock & roll history, and something the world is the worse for, is this difficult document of one of the best '80s bands from New England, Girls Night Out. For a group who approximately grossed over a quarter of a million dollars in a two-year period, they were saddled with arguably the worst cover art in Boston history, substandard production by the usually reliable Chris Lannon, and evidence that radio-station politics, mismanagement, and too many cooks can do more than spoil the stew; politics can stand in the way of important art. Nothing on this record jumps out at you like the eight-track demo of "Matter of Time," the regional radio hit recording that helped launch GNO's career. The failure to re-track "Matter of Time," a song that was like a girl group version of 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry," is the true crime of the heart here. The great Jimmy Miller produced a cover of "Baby It's You" for lead guitarist Wendy Sobel in 1983, and the version is sultry, moody, and brilliant, but is not included here. The three songs Jimmy Miller did with Wendy Sobel, one-seventh of this band, blow away this entire disc. "Affair of the Heart," "Love Under Pressure," "Calling Doctor Love," and "Crime of the Heart" are studied performances with none of the excitement the girls displayed on-stage. The precision is the kind of homogenization one expects from a major label, not from an independent group, and it feels like the act was being directed from the pages of This Business of Music rather than by the creative instincts of a professional. The results are disappointing. Didi Stewart wrote all the material, and there is no doubt she is a genius, but her talent was inhibited by business forces behind the scenes. Rumor has it that Madonna/Brian Wilson producer Andy Paley was interested in signing the group, but the manager allegedly would not agree to the terms. If that urban myth is true, it is a shame, for Paley could have taken "Affair of the Heart" and given it the Phil Spector treatment. The songs are all first-rate, it is just that they have nothing to them; they are two-dimensional recordings with flawed sounds (listen to the lame drum slap in the middle of "Affair of the Heart"). These are pedestrian performances from ladies who bowled people over in concert; a version of "Love Under Pressure" is included that sounds like it is stuck in a pressure cooker. There's no mastering credit, but that essential element is thin at best. Girls Night Out's exquisite staple, "When You Were Mine," shows up five years later on the One True Heart album by Didi Stewart, and it is total vindication, showing what the songwriter could do away from the confines of a democracy. Bits and pieces of what this phenomenal group was all about have surfaced elsewhere. Alizon Lissance has released discs with her local group, and other members -- Myanna, Wendy Sobel, and Didi Stewart -- are off doing their own thing; reunions of this post-Amplifiers band Stewart fronted happen once in a blue moon. This writer brought Didi Stewart to the 1992 Marty Balin sessions in New Hampshire, and Balin was thrilled at the prospect of Stewart and her friend, Ellie Marshall of the Modern Lovers, singing on his album, Better Generation. That idea was nixed by Karen Deal, Balin's wife, yet another example of people interfering in important art. With the cash that was coming in through the high demand for this group and the combination of originals and covers packing their shows, Girls Night Out should have released a superb album on their own and let a major label pick it up. Seven great artists who should have had original guitarist Patty Larkin return to jam with Wendy Sobel on this were left out in the cold when these recordings failed to generate the same excitement as the band did live. The original demo tapes, the Jimmy Miller sessions with Sobel, a live radio broadcast or recording from a nightclub, and Didi Stewart solo material -- all combined -- could have made this affair memorable. Listening to this decades after it was recorded is still a heartbreak to those who witnessed the excitement of the girls live. This EP is a great excuse for these talented ladies to re-form on their 20th anniversary and create the album they are still capable of putting together.

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