By Steve Wilson
You can add the Bang Girl Group Revue (hereafter … the Bang) to the growing vanguard of bands breathing new life into the classic rhythm ‘n’ blues idiom. They share an emphasis on female vocals with traditionalists like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, stripped down r ‘n’ b/garage purveyors like the Detroit Cobras, and neo-soul traffickers like Fitz and the Tantrums. But where those bands feature a talented female vocalist, the Bang features three. This affords the band a variety and versatility that lends credence to the ‘revue’ part of their name.
Of those, Rachel Mae and Angeline King take the majority of the leads on the band’s debut album Soul Shangri-La. Most observers rightly note that the band’s sound and style are derived from iconic scenes and sources like Motown and Stax. However, the vision that the singers in the Bang embrace is expansive, deep, and just as apt to reflect the kinds of rhythm ‘n’ blues sides that were cut by artists like Betty Everett, Dee Dee Sharp or Lorraine Ellison, artists who are only legendary to fans who dig deeper into the idiom. They are no jukebox. And if they are, it’s a cultist, knowing Wurlitzer.
Rachel Mae’s stylistic range reflects the influence of soul belters like Irma Thomas and Martha Reeves, but she also has a light touch on ballads that suggests soul-pop soothers like Dionne Warwick. Her take on Dorothy Berry’s “You Bettter Watch Out” is a knockout, as is her hard drinking women’s love rights declaration on the original tune “Drink in Hand” (‘the kind of guy I prefer is a drinking man’). You’ll note that the songs here, covers and originals like, vacillate between reflecting the moral ethos of the girl group era and the band’s more assertive update on such visions of sorrow and surrender.
Angeline King has a fiery delivery that is perfect for some of the band’s harder edged originals and interpretations, even reflecting the girlish rasp of a rockabilly gal like Wanda Jackson on tracks like ‘Love’s Gone Bad’ or “Not Your Fool.” These cuts feature guitarist/producer Derek See’s more acidic guitar tones. While he can lay down sweet Stax grooves like Steve Cropper, or the elegiac lines of players like Wayne Bennet (Bobby “Blue” Bland’s longtime guitarist), on these sides he takes on the edge of Mike Bloomfield or Henry Vestine – while the band sounds as much like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators as the Barkays. See has served as James Williamson’s guitar tech, and played alongside him with the Careless Hearts.
See’s guitar chops and soul vision are largely responsible for the sound of Soul Shangri-La. He oversaw these sessions, cutting the sharp instrumental quartet (Curtis Meacham on keys, bassist Jafar Green, and drummer Richard Gutierrez) live, while recording the singers live with two mics – one for whoever sang lead, one for the harmonizers. It pays off because there is an auto-tune free spontaneity and live slap to these tracks, delivering all the benefits of live performance verve.
Originals like the opening cut “Another Notch on His Belt” (Tish Peterson’s only, but exemplary solo turn here), and the sweet, girl group groove of “You Got My Love,” with its evocations of smooth, soulful sounds like the Paris Sisters, or “Not Your Fool, another Angeline vehicle, featuring See’s twelve-string jangle and a solo that sounds like a wired out Zal Yanovsky, blend seamlessly with well curated cover versions. The Bang’s take on “In the Basement,” popularized by Sugar Pie DeSanto and Etta James, is as spirited as its inspiration, See’ s guitar adding a nasty, ‘just’ punked-out edge to the performance. Angeline wails on “Love’s Gone Bad,” an obscure Motown chestnut from Chris Clark, one of Gordy’s rare Caucasian discoveries. Also from the Detroit vaults is a great take by Rachel on the Velvelettes’ “Needle in a Haystack.” Soul Shangri-La roars to a close with guitarist See splintering Jim McCarty-style licks on the little known “Hold On,” a freak beat era gem from Sharon Tandy.
It’s tempting to see a band like the Bang as keepers of a flame. And they are that. But with Soul Shangri-La they bring their own intense burn; yes, they are carrying a torch, but they are starting new fires in the souls of those who may have never experienced the vitality of these great sounds, by capturing those sounds, and extending, revitalizing and jump starting them for a new generation.
The Bang Girl Group Revue Soul Shangri-la is released by Psychdelfonic Records and is available to purchase at: http://thebanggirlgrouprevue.blogspot.com