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Tell No Lies

With Butch, Carla Bozulich and the Geraldine Fibbers are lost no more

She lives about 20 minutes away, but she doesn't want to meet in person. She ostensibly knows how to dial a phone, yet she has her publicist place the call from a third location and patch her through. Sometimes, musicians seem to enjoy being eccentric simply because they can, turning even simple things such as interviews into the stuff of high drama. Then you get the feeling that Carla Bozulich lives for drama, that she enjoys making others just a little uncomfortable, simply because she can.

Such is the small reward, perhaps, for a woman whose band released a remarkable album two years ago only to find writers discussing her life instead of her art, placing her at the scene of the crime with talk of heroin days and streetwalking nights. The CD, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, became less about the music and more about reading between the lines of the lyrics: Was Bozulich Lilybelle, the woman rocking in the dark to the voices in her head? Was she the "girl so sleepy she could not be roused"? Was she the "girlie" who was "kinda surly, stuck a needle in her eye"? Yes, of course, she was all of them -- a very long time ago. A decade ago, to be precise, long before she cleaned up and set straight a punk-rock life that began in San Pedro, California, where she hung out with Minuteman George Hurley, and brought her to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, then to Virgin Records and the brink of greatness with a band called the Geraldine Fibbers.

The Fibbers have just released their second full-length CD, Butch, and it's among the finest CDs you'll have the pleasure of hearing this year. Wait, not one of the finest -- make that one of the oddest you'll hear in 1997, one of the most honest, one of the most disorienting, one of the most beguiling, one of the most enthralling. And maybe it's not such a pleasure to hear either, nor should it be. Butch might as well be a compilation: Every song sounds different from the one before it and the one after it. It's almost a dare, bigger than life, made up of pieces of everything you've ever heard before and things you didn't even know existed.

The Fibbers began in 1993 as a country side project, a way for Bozulich to act out her Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton fantasies at the same time she was fronting the sex-obsessed hip-hop band Ethyl Meatplow. The earliest Fibbers songs, such as "Marmalade" and "Outside of Town" and a Carter Family-style cover of Beck's "Blue Cross," were like Appalachian folk ballads dressed in punk finery, with banjos and lap steels forcing their way through the feedback. In an instant, the woman who sang "Devil's Johnson," the anti-crack anthem off Ethyl Meatplow's sole release, 1993's Happy Days, Sweetheart, was singing murder ballads like a refugee from Tennessee.

That country fetish has long since given way to metal side trips and ambient tangents and new-wave hoedowns; Butch is almost indefinable, intangible, maybe even impenetrable at first. From the edgy tension of "I Killed the Cuckoo" to the hazily gorgeous instrumental "Claudine" to the country-tinged "Folks Like Me" and "Pet Angel" to the cello-bound-and-gagged "Arrow to My Drunken Eye" to the cover of Can's "You Doo Right" to the orchestrated freak-out of "The Dwarf Song," it's a CD that frightened even Bozulich at first. She was convinced almost until the end it could never be put in any sort of order, that it didn't make sense. And in the end, that's perhaps the point.

"I really think people are being sold a bill of goods in general at this time in our little story," Bozulich says. "You look around, and everything is exactly the same. There's these limitations or boundaries on everything that people don't even question. Like, your average 20- to 25-year-old person doesn't remember when cars didn't all look the same, you know what I mean? And they don't remember when the music on the radio used to get airplay because it didn't sound like anything else. It's the opposite now. You get airplay if you sound like something else successful, but people that are before a certain age have never seen that. It's a bad thing, and that's kind of one of my little causes, I think, to let people know the limitations are a myth."

Butch is Lost Somewhere times a thousand, string sections filling in the awkward silences and band newcomer Nels Cline's guitar pushing against the sky like Chuck Yeager in search of Mach one. The Fibbers are now down Jessy Greene, the violinist who departed to join her boyfriend in the Jayhawks, and up Cline, the man who could play a symphony with a single guitar pick. (Cline replaced guitarist Daniel Keenan, whose bout with tendinitis has rendered him unable to play, though he did co-write one song on Butch.) Bassist William Tutton and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald remain from the Fibbers' original incarnation, and two rotating violinists will fill in for Greene, whose departure has clearly unsettled Bozulich, especially since Greene played on Butch and was expected to tour behind it.

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