Title: gloria, G-U-I-T-A-R
Artist: she speaks in tongues
Release Date: 2014 May 06
Genre: Rock / Punk
License: CC BY-SA
Kate McCandless speaks in tongues of history, of feminism, of rock music, and of cultural appropriation. And she does all this while performing in a burlap sack. Wait, what? Why a burlap sack? Well, I will try to cover this, and a complex range of topics in the rest of this review.
Kate McCandless Speaks In Tongues
So, let’s talk about the burlap sack first as it is a symbol of one of the very intricate work of Kate McCandless. The burlap sack has it’s origin in a moment of clarity, a gestalt that she had about the relationship between men and women. That the relationship is about power. The power that men hold over women transcends so deeply that it goes so far as to affect how women dress. When really it doesn’t matter what a woman wears: a dress, a suit, sweats or even a burlap sack.
So, in this moment of clarity, the idea of wearing a burlap sack was born as a way to transform that power relationship at least in a symbolic way. And, it’s this transformation that transcends the works that McCandless has put into her first project with her group she speaks in tongues.
While there is a core of feminist idea running throughout this release, it is not the only theme. Another theme is the examination of (in McCandless’s words) “oppressor as lover” based on songs by blues singers like Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton. And a third theme is the appropriation of black culture into white culture, as exemplified by rock singers like Elvis Presley. And, if that weren’t enough we come full circle with the concept of transformation of a cultural work by making small (but important) modifications to them, and mixing several together to make a new context to tell a different story. I feel this last concept is very much the same as the transformation of clothing symbolically into a burlap sack.
So, how does this work? Well, let’s take the opening track as an example. Blue mixes ‘St. Louis Blues’ by Bessie Smith with ‘Hound Dog’ by Big Mama Thornton, ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Dolly Parton (and later Whitney Houston), ‘At Last’ by Etta James, and ‘King Of The Mountain’ by Kate Bush. This takes the idea of the woman wronged by a man, the “opressor as lover”, the cultural appropriation concept, and through mashing them up, turns the overall message of all these pieces on their ear.
And all six tracks on this release follow these themes, ideas and concepts completely through. From beginning to end, this release is relentless in its examination of cultural appropriation and transformation, re-casting male dominant ideas into the feminist perspective, and basically being fearless of re-framing the familiar as something new.
I wrote some time back about Varia’s Magic + Omega release, which I felt failed in terms of appropriation and transformation. That’s definitely not the case with this work, due two factors: (1) The amazingly complex re-contextualization of the works being appropriated. I might have had similar feelings towards this work as I did the Varia release, if there weren’t so many layers to the changes – both in small terms (changing a few words in the lyrics), to the larger (mixing different songs together), (2) Not appropriating the original recordings and making minor modifications to them, but rather creating new performances. And boy are the performances amazing. Eric Schmidt, Daniel Majid, Adrian Vigliano, and Nigel Harsch all help to bring a raw excitement and energy to these works that allows McCandless to push her vocals to the very edge.
This isn’t the glossy mashup style of Glee, or some teeny-bopper pop music. Kate McCandless has put together a group of musicians that bring a raw, punk energy to her music that supports her as a modern-day Janis Joplin (one of the songs even references ‘Take A Little Piece of My Heart’ by Big Brother and the Holding Company). She has taken the concepts of cultural appropriation and transformation and turned them on their ear, providing familiar works with completely new contexts and stories.
This is a singular work that has no peers. It is fully deserving of a nine star rating.
As a parting note: many of the topics in this release, and more are covered on the she speaks in tongues tumblr. I highly recommend checking it out, Kate McCnadless’s writings are every bit as fascinating and inspiring as her music.