If you're in a band, reading your own press sucks. Most of the time, you find yourself compared to bands you've never listened to or, worse, bands you don't even like. But sometimes writers just keep spouting variations of the same theme, and the Gossip's been sliced and diced by that hack-wielded sword for five years now. Everything the band puts out, every new area it explores, is compared to the same thing. There seems to be no shortage of ways to say they sound like Etta James through a riot-grrl filter, or queer-core Leadbelly, or Ozark-born, Olympia-based garage-stomp blues. But what are helpless writers to do? If a reference works, it works. As Shakespeare might have put it, layeth upon the sword and let the bloodlettings begin!
The Gossip formed five years ago in Searcy, Arkansas. Alienated by the minnow-eating townies you gawked at on The Simple Life, this forward-thinking three-piece picked up shop and moved to Olympia, Washington, which is where -- sword drawn -- the riot-grrl movement began. A seven-inch on K Records and a full-length on Kill Rock Stars -- That's Not What I Heard -- put them on the map. TNWIH sounded like, um...shit -- Etta James through a riot grrl-filter (¿Y tu, McManus?), and unfortunately for the Gossip, it came out when riot grrl was being shown the door. Still, whether the trend was dead or not, the Gossip was hailed a hoss-ass blues band fronted by an unusual girl with a voice of gold.
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Too bad their two follow-up releases, Arkansas Heat and Movement, have had to compete with albums from a whole host of bass-less bands that ape the White Stripes, the Kills and the Soledad Brothers. The difference: None of them has singer Beth Ditto. She's the Bessie Smith in the equation, and not even Karen O can smite her. Guitarist Nathan Howdeshell and drummer Kathy Mendonca hold their own too, and what's more, they do it with minimal equipment (four-string guitar, no hi-hat). The sound may not be unique anymore, but damn if it isn't still good.
In Blues for Dummies, there's a chapter titled "Can White People Play the Blues?" (I'm not kidding -- about the existence of the book or the chapter.) Not play the blues physically, of course, but live it? Breathe it? Try being a lesbian in Arkansas, or being picked on for missing two strings on your guitar, for that matter. That'll teach you what the blues is about, whether you're white, black, green or have red breath -- if it's for real, it's solid.