Junk blues

Mar 21, 2001 at 12:00 am

Knoxville Girls ain’t girls, and they ain’t flashing grit-eating grins south of the Mason-Dixon either. These misbehaved no-wavers are just five Big Apple boys with a bogus band name and impressive rock resumes (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, the Cramps, etc.). Misleading moniker and punk pedigrees aside, however, Knoxville Girls do a bang-up job on their second long-player of new material: In a Paper Suit is Memphis blues-barbed gutter punk that, at its best, is worth mentioning alongside the rickety-rock clatter of the White Stripes. And while there’s only one misstep on the album — pity the Little Shop of Horrors-styled remake of “Sophisticated Boom Boom” — it’s Jerry Teel’s helter-skelter swagger and Barry London’s undulating organ that make the album such a rough-and-tumble treat.

Unlike Knoxville Girls, Lorette Velvette is a girl, and she is from Tennessee. On the Memphis-bred blues woman’s American debut, Rude Angel, Velvette impressively mines the Mississippi Delta blues and her home state’s dirty-country territory with a slide guitar, a gritty growl and the know-how of a rock veteran. And while she’s been practically undetected on the U.S. rock radar, she’s a vet nonetheless: Velvette’s already put out a trio of German albums and spent more than a decade in bands such as the Hellcats and the Kropotkins, soaking up influences including Tav Falco, R.L. Burnside, Othar Turner and her sometimes producer Alex Chilton.

It’s about time, then, that Velvette’s extraordinary solo recordings see the light of day on this side of the pond. With its 18 songs culled from her overseas releases, Rude Angel opens with a rowdy rendition of David Bowie’s brilliant “Boys Keep Swinging.” That song is the perfect intro to Velvette’s work, too: Tongue-in-cheek and full of hiss ‘n’ vinegar, her rough-edged drawl is so perfectly unpolished that she comes off like a truckstop rocker remaking glam into a punker’s down-home hoedown. There’s not a dud among the album’s amazing originals and covers — including Burnside, Fred McDowell, John Lennon, and T. Rex — but it’s Velvette’s voice that demands and commands listeners’ attention. So while Knoxville Girls offer up some great Southern-styled junk-rock jams, Lorette Velvette is Tennessee’s real blues-rock deal.

E-mail Jimmy Draper at [email protected].