Filthy Friends, Dressy Bessy
285 West Washington St
Athens, GA, 30601
Doors 8:00 PM
This event is minors under 18 with parent or legal guardian
The first releases from Filthy Friends, the scorchingly melodic rock group whose membership consists of some of the most original musical voices of the past three decades, came as a small, delightful shock to the system. Not only because of the names associated with the project, including Sleater-Kinney co-founder Corin Tucker, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and indie stalwarts Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, but also because of how ably they were able to mesh their individual sounds into a crackling melodic whole on debut album Invitation.
Now, with their follow-up—Emerald Valley, out on Kill Rock Stars on May 3rd—the Friends have proven their collective mettle, crafting a thematic suite of songs that finds the quintet digging deeper into their bag of musical tricks and giving Tucker room to rage about and mourn the fate of our planet and the people who inhabit it.
The core idea came from a demo Buck shared with Tucker for a grinding blues song that eventually turned into this new album’s title track. The minute she heard it, Tucker says, it sparked something within her: “I had this long poem growing in my brain,” she says. “It turned into a sort of manifesto about the kind of place we are at as a country but also as a region. Just taking stock of where we’re at and feeling like I can’t believe we let things get this bad.”
While Emerald Valley s tarts off with idyllic imagery (“Rolling fields, they speak your name/vibrant green is here again”), the album and its title track slowly reveal the ugly underneath, with human arrogance and hubris hurting the Earth and the people who take on “backbreaking work for little pay.”
From there, the Friends address growing concerns over oil production and distribution (“Pipeline”), gentrification and income inequality within the band’s hometown of Portland, Oregon (“One Flew East”), and taking on the voice of the desperate souls that are getting crushed under the wheels of capitalism (“Last Chance County”). The band paints these themes with many different shades of the rock palette, nestling a snapping punk tune between a bit of jangly pop and an almost-shoegaze ballad, with stops along the way for songs that burn as hot and move as slow as lava and tunes that stay steady and fast as a rocket launch.
Emerald Valley is also a testament the indefatigable spirit of the Filthy Friends themselves. Scott McCaughey bounced back from a stroke he suffered in late 2017, which curtailed the band’s tour plans and is playing with more fire than ever. As well, Corin Tucker and Peter Buck were able to devise some amazing work even as their creative energies were being pulled toward other projects like Arthur Buck and Sleater-Kinney. Too, the band was able to bring a new member into the fold with drummer Linda Pitmon coming on board to replace Bill Rieflin without losing an ounce of their power.
We could all take a lesson from Filthy Friends. As proven by Emerald Valley, when a group of like-minded people gather their individual strengths together and point them toward a singular goal, there’s no telling how powerful they can become and what an impact they can make on the world at large.
"We never broke up," Dressy Bessy singer/guitarist Tammy Ealom says on the occasion of the release of KINGSIZED, her band's first new album in seven years. "It was never our intention to drop out, it just sort of happened. We were dealing with life, but we never stopped making music."
Indeed, the 13-song KINGSIZED makes it clear that, nearly 20 years into their career, Dressy Bessy are making some of their most compelling and accomplished music. Such melodically infectious, lyrically barbed new tunes as "Lady Liberty," "Make Mine Violet" and the anthemic title track are potent examples of the band's uncanny ability to wrap Ealom's personally-charged, pointedly subversive lyrics in sparkling, irresistibly catchy songcraft.
In addition to showcasing the band's musical chemistry, KINGSIZED also draws upon the talents of a wide assortment of friends, admirers, and contemporaries. R.E.M's Peter Buck adds distinctive 12-string guitar on "Lady Liberty" and "Cup 'O Bang Bang," while legendary Pylon frontwoman Vanessa Briscoe-Hay adds her voice to "Get Along (Diamond Ring)." Minus 5/Young Fresh Fellows mastermind Scott McCaughey plays keyboards on "Make Mine Violet" and "57 Disco" and R.E.M's Mike Mills sings on the band's distinctive rendering of the George Harrison classic "What Is Life," which appears as the b-side of the 7" single release of "Lady Liberty."
KINGSIZED, after the departure of original bass player Rob Greene, features an assortment of notable guest bassists as well, including Eric Allen of The Apples In Stereo, Jason Garner of the Polyphonic Spree and The Deathray Davies, Mike Giblin of Split Squad and fabled punk progenitor Andy Shernoff of The Dictators.
KINGSIZED also marks a return to the band's early recording approach. As Hill explains, "With our first two albums, we were a completely D.I.Y. operation, and we recorded everything at home. Then we did our next three albums in the studio. Three or four years ago, we revamped our home studio, so we could record complete works at home. Now we have the sound quality of a real studio without the time constraints. We have enough time for stuff to jell and enough time to work things out."
While KINGSIZED features some of the most focused, organic music Dressy Bessy has ever made, the new album is consistent with the pursuit of joy and transcendence that's been the band's mission from its early days in its hometown of Denver.
Although such seminal Dressy Bessy releases as Pink Hearts Yellow Moons, The California EP, SoundGoRound, Little Music: Singles 1997-2002, Dressy Bessy and Electrified earned the band an enthusiastic fan base with their effervescent, uplifting pop tunes, they also caused some observers to miss the tougher edge of Ealom's lyrics.
Now that they're back in action with some of their strongest music to date, Dressy Bessy is happy to be back at work. "I feel like we're just starting to get good at what we do," Ealom states. "We've had a lot of time to hone in our sound, knowing what we want to sound like and figuring out what we need to do to get that. I'm really excited about the future."
"We actually kind of know what we're doing now," adds Hill with a chuckle. "We used to always be flying by the seat of our pants, but we're better players, Tammy is a better singer, and we're a better band. I think we've recorded the best album that we ever have, so our plan now is to just get out there and rock, then keep on rocking. We need our fans and we feel like they need us too."