”How long until I know you don’t care for us?” Nina Diaz coos sweetly on ”Adjust,” the song that launches the fourth studio album from her band, Girl In A Coma.
She has every reason to wonder.
Girl in a Coma
The two-thirds lesbian trio took its name from The Smiths, has recorded on Joan Jett’s label for nearly five years now, and over the years has performed with Morrissey and Tegan and Sara, not to mention those on the 2008 True Colors Tour (though not in D.C.).
We should have long ago shown our love and care, and been caught barking up this band’s tree.
Because that’s only the half – the queer half — of the band’s appeal. The Tex-Mex band’s sound is deep-fried in Texas, so that its blistering new wave/punk heat and attitude come out coated in sweet touches of Tejano, ranchera and rockabilly.
Once you hear it, you’ll definitely care for it. How is it that I’ve missed them all these years?
Well, to an extent, it happens every year: Great albums often see release toward the end of the calendar year, when they get lost in the year-end shuffle. In 2011, there were at least two acts that I should have showered with more attention. Better late than never.
And if you missed either Girl In A Coma’s Exits & All The Rest or Washington’s I Believe You Liar – both released last fall — well, here’s to letting them be the soundtrack to start 2012 off with a bang.
The only non-queer member of the Coma trio, Nina Diaz has a killer voice – NPR has called it ”one of the two or three most exciting, scary-good vocalists in rock today.” Diaz alternately wields her marvelous vocal instrument to coo or wail – sometimes in the same song — singing tender country-tinged ballads, blistering punk tunes and humid, old-fashioned pop. On the album closer ”Mother’s Lullaby,” Diaz channels Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson to add some rockabilly ache to a reverential song presumably dedicated to bandmate Jenn Alva’s late mother, to whom the band dedicated the entire album.
Diaz ends ”Mother’s Lullaby” with a lilting chord from an organ, displaying her multi-instrumental talents – she also plays a mean guitar throughout the album, and even plucks a ukulele on the otherwise grimacing tune ”Cemetery Baby.”
But Girl In A Coma is very much an ensemble: Alva ravishes on the bass and Nina’s sister Phanie Diaz is a powerful drummer. Yes, that makes Girl In A Coma a band in which lesbians steer the ship, leading the rhythm section.
THERE’S ANOTHER quirky pop singer from Down Under, and any fan of Sia or Missy Higgins, to name just two Aussie predecessors, should take notice of Megan Washington. In fact, once again we’re a little late to the party: Washington has already won the Australian equivalent of a Grammy as Best Female Vocalist, and last year she opened for Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark on the British new wavers’ first North American tour in 23 years.
Washington could easily go unnoticed, since she records with a band using only her last name, all too indistinctive in this part of the world – and with no obvious connection to D.C. at that.
But her U.S. debut album is titled I Believe You Liar – and the gorgeous piano ballad that ends the album and gives it its title is pretty unforgettable, too. ”All the things you’ve said, and things you’ve done,” Washington sings, to her untruthful ex. ”I remember, in memoriam.”
And then there’s the first single ”Holy Moses,” which will put you in mind of KT Tunstall. It’s a hand-clapping, barn-storming tribal-folk jam – complete with a kazoo! — that is a perfect sequel to the 2005 hit ”Black Horse And The Cherry Tree.” ”Oh, I know the broken-hearted sing ‘Hallelujah,”’ Washington sings on the rousing tune. ”Even though I mean nothing to you, I call you Holy Moses.”
Nothing else on the long, 13-song I Believe You Liar, which is chiefly a breakup album, quite matches that song’s irresistible pop ferocity — but then Tunstall has also struggled to match her early success. More to the point, Washington proves herself here to be a charming newcomer – and most songs offer a fair amount of appealing pop energy. Throughout the set you hear traces of Washington’s background as a classically trained jazz vocalist, as well as the singing pianist/guitarist’s self-taught passion for updating the sounds of classic Americana, pop and folk.
”Holy shit, you sure can turn it on,” she sings on the bluesy rock jam ”Sunday Best.”
You won’t want to turn it off.