Pat Burtis

Radium Girls

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In the six-page booklet insert to his debut CD, Radium Girls, Pat Burtis explains how "the Radium Girls were the impetus for some of the first labor laws designed to protect workers." The artist explains how these factory girls from the 1920s painted radium on watch faces and dials to make them glow in the dark. That some of them took ill or died from radiation poisoning, Burtis feels, makes for a story of the impermanence of beauty and human existence. The 11 songs sweep in strong, with the immediate "Aphrodite," a tune about "evasive love," addressing the above-referenced beauty from the outset. He gives hints to what is contained in his writing with a bit of commentary underneath the lyrics, a nice touch as it steers the listener in the right direction. "Three Days in the Box" is a song about communication when a relationship gets rocky; Burtis suggests you lock the two people in a room -- "the smaller the better." It's a great romantic notion in theory, but more difficult to put into practice, which is why lovelorn artists end up writing songs. This album is even stronger than its follow-up, Clarify; there are extra tension and drama in the grooves of "Said and Done" with a band that's tight as a drum. Don't be mistaken into thinking this is a folk-rock album, though, as "Denim Gun" rocks and wails. The title track takes things into even stranger territory, the singer/songwriter venturing into Roxy Music's playground with eerie guitar sounds (all by Burtis) to complement the story of women whose "eyes shine in the dark." The fact that their eyes really did glow makes it all the more haunting, and it's an extraordinary departure for this collection. "Rollercoaster" gets back to the regularly scheduled program, and for those who have had the unpleasant experience of a yin/yang relationship, it's described to a "t" here. The music is well recorded, exploring different themes: empowerment in "Bootstraps," love at first sight and life throwing curves on "A Thing or Two," all concluding with a beautiful "Clementine," inspired by a Union soldier's letters to his wife during the Civil War. Radium Girls is a thing of beauty and worthy of repeated spins; it's an album with different perspectives on life told with insightful precision.

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