splendid > reviews > 7/29/2003
Dressy Bessy
Dressy Bessy

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Baby Six String"

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If you've never heard Dressy Bessy, and have formed your opinion of the band solely by looking at their records, they must seem painfully twee -- they're named after a doll, after all, and their albums feature cutesy titles and pastel-intensive artwork. It's easy to picture them as a bunch of precious, underfed liberal arts grads with resale shop clothes and a tendency to mock unfashionable haircuts. Of course, you'd be wrong. As anyone who has ever left a Dressy Bessy gig with ringing ears will tell you, they're not kids and they're not twee -- they're intelligent adults (who, to their credit and/or detriment, never seem embarrassed to be in a band called Dressy Bessy) and they can rock the bejeezus out of you when the spirit moves them to.

The trouble is, their albums have never done them justice. The Dressy Bessy of Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons and Sound Go Round seems cautious and respectful, as if they're afraid of inspiring you to turn up the volume in case you annoy your neighbors. The performances are capable, but there's little indication that the band is capable of more. They are, in a word, polite -- which is never a good thing for rock albums to be.

Dressy Bessy gets it right. At first it's a simple matter of production; the disc sounds clean, but never slick, with a whole lot more bottom-end oomph than we've heard from the band on record before -- a far cry from the "Sears Practice Amp" sound that dogged their early recordings. Songs like "Just Once More" and "This May Hurt (a little)" hit harder, with punchy rhythms and plenty of guitar crunch. You'll want to turn them up nice and loud whether the neighbors like it or not. There's nothing staid about the guitar and bass interplay here; it's all confident, even cocksure swagger with a touch of garage rock edge -- a far cry from a bunch of kids who play quietly so you won't catch their mistakes.

Vocalist Tammy Ealom gives her most mature performance to date. In the past, Ealom has fallen back on an earnest, flirty chirp which, unfortunately, sounded a bit flat when she pushed for the higher notes. Here, she seems empowered -- confident and occasionally a little pissed off, and she speaks her mind rather than resorting to sing-song Lolita-wheedling. She tackles "Better Luck" with ferocious stroppiness, harmonizes sweetly on "The Things That You Say That You Do" and even channels a little Kim Gordonesque haughtiness for "This May Hurt (a little)"'s chorus. The rest of the band is in equally fine form; John Hill plays fuzzy lead guitar like a man ready and willing to eclipse his other band, while bassist Rob Greene and drummer Darren Albert lay a flawless foundation. These grown men aren't embarrassed to be in a band called Dressy Bessy. Why? Because they go out every night and kick ass and convert the naysayers -- and Dressy Bessy captures that gleeful power like nothing else in the band's canon.

Mind you, there's only so much any band can do with the guitars/bass/vocals jangly-pop formula, and Dressy Bessy take it as far as it'll go. The album needs a decent bit of volume to work its magic; play it too quietly and it'll blur into a pleasing but anonymous mass of crunchy melodies. The lesson: pop albums aren't meant to be unobtrusive background music!

This is the album that should put Dressy Bessy on the big map. Indeed, it's fitting that they've waited 'til now to release a self-titled disc; Dressy Bessy is your best and truest introduction to this very likable band.



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