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Music Review: Rasputina – Great American Gingerbread

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Rasputina have developed a genre all their own, which they call “cello rock.” Great American Gingerbread is a CD/DVD set of the group performing obscurities and others from their catalog. The set-up is three female cellists with a male drummer keeping the beat. Although none of their material is quite as mannered as Celtic Woman, there are certain similarities.

One element is that these are very attractive women, who are also very serious musicians. Their medieval outfits are a nice touch, and the fact that leader Melora Creager has kept the group active for nearly 20 years is certainly one reason they sound so good together.

Although one does not hear it in the music of Rasputina, their main inspiration (as a whole) has been that of punk rock. This was made clear when they first gained notice while touring with Nirvana in 1992.

The music of Rasputina has very little to do with what one would consider punk, however. There are no hard-charging cellos berating capitalism, and I seriously doubt that they have ever inspired a mosh-pit. The perspective remains DIY, however not only as in doing it yourself, but also in staying true to your vision, no matter what.

Over the course of six albums and multiple other projects, Rasputina have done exactly that. As a New York band, they have been popular in the downtown scene for some time now, and the concert DVD was filmed live at the legendary Knitting Factory.

Watching the group perform for such an informed audience is a wonderful thing. Jokes go over spectacularly, and the performers all look extremely comfortable. There are terrific songs contained in this concert as well. A couple of stand-outs are “Sweetwater Kill” and “Trenchmouth.” The CD is a bit more confrontational. Track one, “Pudding Crypt,” will get one’s attention immediately. It also supplies the interesting title to Great American Gingerbread.

Rasputina’s obscurities reveal a darker side than most of the selections on the DVD. With “Death at Disneyland,” “Ballad of Lizzie Borden,” and “Skeleton Bang” we come face to face with the angry young cellists, which is a disconcerting prospect to say the least.

And yet there is beauty in all of this music. Whether immediately obvious or not, a great deal of thought has gone into the presentation and development of the Rasputina vision. I quite enjoy the CD’s 14 songs, but seeing them in a live context on the DVD is even better. Great American Gingerbread offers both options and is the perfect way to get to know this intriguing group.

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