In an era where the old business model for marketing and distribution of music is quickly becoming a thing of the past, Girl in a Coma appears to be in good hands with Joan Jett’s small independent record label, Blackheart Records. On Trio B.C., the San Antonio alternative pop/punk band’s second album for Blackheart, you get the feeling that Ms. Jett is aware that the band has a lot of untapped potential. You also get the impression that she’s just the right mentor for the group and can bring out the best in them.
There’s no evidence of a “sophomore slump” or any “jump the shark” moments on Trio B.C. Principal songwriter, guitarist, and lead vocalist, Nina Diaz, 21, Nina’s sister and drummer Phanie Diaz, 27, and the group’s bassist/vocalist, Jen Alva, 28, set the bar high and cleared it. While the songs on the new album preserve the signature sound of the group’s 2007 first full length disc, Both Before I’m Gone, the overall sound is more polished this time around. That’s not entirely unexpected; in fact, you expect to hear that more and more as a young band gains more experience in the studio. Jett, one of four producers credited on the new album, is obviously “pushing all the right buttons” with Girl in a Coma.
The diversity of the material presented on Trio B.C. encompasses elements of alternative rock, 90s grunge, punk, country, 50s rockabilly, and Mexican music. This is a band that can play a number of different styles. With that kind of variety in song structure and performance, the listening experience is rewarding. As each song came to its conclusion, I was anxious to hear the next one. Perhaps more importantly, these new songs reflect the growth and maturation of Nina Diaz as a songwriter. As a singer, Diaz’s tone compares favorably with that of Shirley Manson, the lead vocalist of Garbage.
Both Before I’m Gone was an excellent debut record. It was filled with mostly raw, powerful, punk/pop/rock numbers that hinted at the heavy influence of Morrissey and The Smith’s on the group’s sound. The album hit No. 23 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart, and the song, “Clumsy Sky”, earned accolades as the winner of an Independent Music Award for best punk song.
Trio B.C. builds upon the sound of the first record, but it also takes something from the best work of Blondie (“Static Mind”), The Pretenders (“Pink Lemonade”) and Letters to Cleo (“Pleasure and Pain”). In terms of style, it has something for everyone. There are memorable heartbreaking ballads (“Vino”), rebellious punk rock anthems (“Baby Boy” and “Empty Promise”), and even a few playful songs that have a real pop sensibility (“In the Day”) and (“Joanie in the City”). “Joanie” features Joan Jett on vocals and guitar. It’s a fast paced song, with plenty of flourishes of chunky rhythm guitar. When Nina sings the line, “She’s running away to the city”, I can’t help but wonder if the tune is actually about Jett, a former member of the teen girl band, The Runaways. “Slaughter Lane” is an enticing sample of alternative-country that includes some Telecaster guitar twang.
“Trail” is a wistful acoustic ballad that has a bit of twang added in for good measure. (“BB”) is a sultry Spanish flavored tune that opens with a slow arpeggiated guitar riff. At the chorus, it suddenly erupts with a stunning display of power. Yet another highlight is the group’s tribute to their Mexican heritage, (“Ven Cerca”). It is sung in Spanish. It is also notable for its eerie, psychedelic, introductory sequence.
In the ever evolving music business where the few remaining major record labels are more concerned about short term profits than anything else, being signed to an independent label can turn out to be a blessing. A small label can often be a bit more patient and nurturing. They have another goal in mind; establishing creditability for the company in the short term, and obtaining long term viability for the artist. As a result, their recording acts are given adequate time to hone their musical skills and develop a fan base.
Some bands can deal with the pressure of following up a solid first album with something more promising. Girl in a Coma has accomplished that feat with Trio B.C.. Nevertheless, there will always be groups that stumble upon one shining moment. Those are the bands that are forever saddled with the weight of being tagged as “one hit wonders”. Of course, there’s always that other category: the bands that offered consistent excellence, but, for whatever reason, never show up on the radar. Those are the bands that just fade away, left to wonder what might have been. At least for the time being, Girl in a Coma shouldn’t be worried about falling into either of the latter two categories. And although the music business is quite fickle, Girl in a Coma seems poised for a long run. It will be interesting to see if they can stay on track.