George Graham reviews Rosie and the Riveters' "Ms. Behave"
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The Graham Album Review #1936

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Rosie and the Riveters: Ms. Behave
by George Graham

(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/11/2018)

They used to call them “girl groups,” bands with multiple women vocalists. They go back to the swing era with groups like the Boswell and the Andrews Sisters, and into the early rock and doo-wop days with the Chiffons, the Shangra-Las, and through the Supremes and Labelle, and more recently the Spice Girls. Under the commercial music radar over the past several years, there have been some interesting and sometimes whimsical female groups with a kind of retro sound, such as the Chenille Sisters and the Puppini Sisters. Three weeks ago we featured the new recording by the folk trio I’m with Her, and there are the Wailin’ Jennys. This time, we have another group of women vocalists who do harmonies, Rosie and the Riveters, who have released their new second album called Ms. Behave.

Rosie and the Riveters are from north of the border in Saskatchewan, and consist of Alexis Normand who plays guitar, as well as doing the vocals, along with singers Farideh Olsen and Allyson Reigh. Outwardly, they come across as a throwback to the swing era with the frilly feminine look of the 1930s and 40s girl groups, but their lyrics are cast a strong feminist message, often with some irony and a bit of sarcasm, embedded in an upbeat melodic sound dominated by their classic vocal harmonies. In 2016 they released their debut album Good Clean Fun, which began to attract attention, though with less of the lyrical message. Rosie and the Riveters’ bio said that they never intended to get political, but the steady drumbeat of news stories, especially as they related to the treatment of women in places from Hollywood to Africa, made it impossible to stay silent, they say. They retreated to a cabin on northern Saskatchewan and wrote some 40 songs. Then they went to Toronto and collaborated with a couple of established songwriters there. The result is a dozen tunes that can swing or sound sultry or even folky, while making their statements with song titles like I Wanna Get Paid, Ask a Man, and a song essentially about the “#metoo” movement, called I Believe You. The trio keeps a sense of fun in their music, so sometimes there is the interesting contrast between the happy-go-lucky sound and words than can sometimes stick the knife in.

Rosie and the Riveters are joined by a relatively small band with keyboards, guitar, drums and bass, and there is a string section who pop up on a couple of the tracks.

Opening is the title piece Ms. Behave, a somewhat sultry arrangement whose lyrics are a kind of statement of rebellion against what is supposedly expected of women. <<>>

In a similar mood lyrically is Let Them Talk. It’s another song about defying the old-fashioned stereotypes, and ignoring the complaints of the naysayers. Its bluesy arrangement also features the string section. <<>>

More laid-back in sound is Good to Me, which is a kind of love song that still asserts independence. <<>>

The song called Gotta Get Paid is self-explanatory, whose lyrics can either mean an instance of a stingy boss, or addressing the issue of salary inequality in the larger world. <<>>

There are a couple of what passes for love songs. One is I Wanna Do Nothing With You. It’s an attractive waltz with the strings making an appearance. <<>>

The trio does an old-fashioned-sounding but original swing composition La Boheme or Dweet Do. The lyrics are pretty retro as well. It’s a thoroughly appealing song showing that the members of Rosie and the Riveters have well absorbed the music of the past. <<>>

Probably the snarkiest set of lyrics on the album is Ask a Man, which lands a few well-aimed brickbats at the stereotyped notion of the woman who needs a man to tell her what to do. <<>>

In the nature of women helping each other is the track named Call Me. The tune has a kind of sultry but upbeat sound. <<>>

The album ends with a country influenced piece which is probably the most serious on the album, I Believe You. It was inspired by the “me too” movement, with the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in the news, and the credibility problems women face when reporting it. <<>>

Ms. Behave, the new second album by the Canadian trio Rosie and the Riveters scores a one-two punch with great vocal harmonies, and often fun retro swing-influenced arrangements, but with some of the sharpest-edged lyrics to come out of the “me too” movement. They make their points often with some satire or irony, rather than being heavy-handed protest songs. Producer Joshua Van Tassel, who also played drums on the album, did a great job in giving the songs some excellent arrangements that reinforce the stylistic direction of the trio’s music. The backup band are versatile and get the swing style right as well as the influences than range from folk and country to soul.

Our grade for sound quality unfortunately, is no better than a “C plus.” The material was initially well-recorded and the mix has everything in the right proportions, but the recording was badly over-compressed and often sounds overdriven and distorted, which undermines the clarity of the music. It’s apparently become trendy in some circles to emulate an old saturated analog recording, but bad sound is still bad sound.

Rosie and the Riveters bring a distinctive combination of clever retro influences with sharp lyrics, and the result is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated April 15, 2018