What better time than the dog days of summer for Miss Derringer’s Winter Hill to arrive.
The title of the album, which is being released July 14 on Nickel and Dime Records/Triple X, has nothing to do with the four seasons but is guaranteed to raise your temperature.
This is one scorcher of a record. As hot as “Summer In The City,” Dick Dale surf-guitar riffs, blockbuster action movies and platinum blond bikini babes roaming the beach.
And while on the subject of this heat wave, there’s no getting around discussing Liz McGrath, the petite project of the creative forces behind this Los Angeles-based band.
In the burgeoning days of the New Wave movement, they said, “Blondie is a group.” In today’s New West revival, they’ll say, “Miss Derringer is a group.” But if Debbie Harry was the one to watch in the late Seventies, now it’s time to keep your eyes on McGrath.
An exceptional and quirky artist/sculptor (think Tim Burton) in another life, she has the looks, the moves, the charm and the charisma of Harry and could be the pint-sized kid sister of Gwen Stefani. If Betty Boop mated with a Kewpie doll, Liz McGrath would be their darling offspring. As fun as she is to listen to on record, this diminutive diva doubles your pleasure in concert. She pouts, she poses, she pleases, she teases.
Miss Derringer brings spirited, animated fun and games to the stage. McGrath, who designed Winter Hill’s cover, has an unconventional sense of fashion. She wears brightly colored costumes that stand out from the rest of the band, four guys dressed in militaristic Western garb (medals, pompadours and bandit scarves, oh my!).
Currently touring with fast-and-furious female trio Girl In A Coma, Miss Derringer ran through most of their new material at breakneck speed on July 6 at 3 Kings Tavern in Denver. (McGrath is shown with bassist Sylvain de Muizon.)
Tattooed love girls, musclebound bikers and hipsters with fuschia-colored mohawks were part of the trendy scene, and all of them were attracted to McGrath, who seemed pleasantly surprised by the reception. “All this on a Monday night,” she said. “We’ll need to hang out in Colorado more often.”
McGrath’s live vocals did suffer some in comparison to the solid production values of Winter Hill, but didn’t detract from the overall performance.
Whether her voice can take this band to another level is still to be determined, although on record it’s utilized to Phil Spector/girl-group perfection.
Comparisons have been made to the slick Sixties sounds of the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes, but that was long before bands such as X, the Clash, Lone Justice (ahh, Maria McKee) and the Runaways came along. Stir them all together into one large melting pot, and serve up this delightful and delicious dish.
From the opening beats of “Click Click (Bang Bang),” you know you’re in for some tasty treats. Sylvain de Muizon’s thunderous bass lines, along with the rat-a-tat thumping by guest drummer Clem Burke (of Blondie fame, not-so-coincidentally) continue the momentum as McGrath cries, “You can’t hurt him cause he really don’t care / you can tell it from his icicle stare” about a dastardly dude with a “Bulletproof Heart.”
The dynamic pace of spunky punkabilly never lets up on Winter Hill, with the majority of the 10 songs written by guitarist Morgan Slade, who doubles as McGrath’s real-life husband (sorry, boys).
Old-fashioned heartache and heartbreak are constant themes, with sad songs such as “Black Tears,” “Tell Me So” and “Death By Desire” (including a “Leader of the Pack”-like spoken intro) providing flashbacks of foolish fights and painful prom nights. (McGrath’s other bandmates, from left, include Ben Shields, drummer Cody James and Morgan Slade.)
The best overall cut, though, might be the male/female, hate-to-love-you/love-to-hate-you standoff in “All the Pretty Things.” In a three-minute brawl as intense as John Doe-vs.-Exene during X’s glory days, McGrath wins by a knockout. In this dueling duet bolstered by guest star Lightnin’ Bill Woodcock’s rapid-fire guitar, she scolds her old man (guest vocalist Sean Wheeler), wailing, “Don’t come on home then babe / See if I still care / But if you decide to come on back / Don’t be surprised to find another man there.”
Miss Derringer began five years ago, and has since added drummer Cory James and guitarist Ben Shields. And while Winter Hill (the title refers to a Sixties gang that started an infamous Irish mob war) is their third album, the timing of its release is perfect.
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