Jo Serrapere has a real talent for attracting good musicians to her bands–or maybe good musicians are attracted to her bands by her talent. She was one of the co-founders of the old-time country group Uncle Earl, then went on to front the bluesy Willie Dunns, formed the all-female roots trio Stella!, and now has a new CD with the LaFawndas, a band made up of musicians from each of those previous groups, plus some new faces.
The LaFawndas’ debut CD, Dollar Store Nation, is vintage Serrapere: Gutsy, topical songs—the CD’s title is a clue—with touches of biting humor. In “Turn My TV On” Serrapere sings about political misdirection and the brain-numbing, anesthetizing tendency of TV: “First it was communism, then drug wars we did fight / Now it’s terrorism makes me lock my doors at night. Sometimes I feel like standing up ’til corporate greed is gone / But really I’m too tired and American Idol’s on.”
Serrapere’s country-style love songs sound like they’re straight from the Fifties, and she sings them with a voice reminiscent of Patsy Cline—no small achievement. But even these familiarly themed love-gone-bad songs have intriguing surprises: “If I were me I wouldn’t treat you this way / If I were me I’d never gone away / If I were me I wouldn’t be as cold as ice / If I were me I would take my own advice.” And then the punch line, “Bet if you were you I’d get another chance.”
Occasionally, though, her anger flares with words that were never heard in Fifties songs: “Someday you’ll find this place is closed for business / ’cause it ain’t your [f-ing] business anymore.” And there are still more surprises. “Don’t Let Me Die,” a truly scary song, with an ominous, insistent beat, is sung from the vantage point of a clerk in a dollar store who’s afraid of being killed in a robbery. Serrapere follows that with a gorgeous little lullaby for her daughter. It’s just Serrapere and her ukulele, and the contrast could not be greater—except that the first song ends with sirens in the background, and the same sirens are jangling behind the lullaby.
It takes imaginative musicianship—as well as some real chops—to pull off these kinds of dramatics, and the LaFawndas are up to it. Multi-instrumentalist and in-demand sideman Drew Howard contributes great pedal steel and guitar licks; Tamineh Gueramy–Serrapere’s former bandmate in Uncle Earl—bows in with fine fiddle; Jen Sygit and Laura Ann Bates of Stella! provide backing harmonies that could give the Chenille Sisters a run for their money; and you could look long to find a rhythm section tighter than bassist Dave Roof and drummer Stuart Tucker.
Jo Serrapere and the LaFawndas are at the Ark on November 5. The opening act is the Hoodang acoustic trio—David Rossiter, Dave Keeney, and Sophia Hanifi.