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Now Hear This

New music reviews: Black Girls, Wendy Rene, Slika and more.

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Black Girls, "Hell Dragon" (Worthless Junk)

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Aptly titled, the second full-length from local band Black Girls is a fiery, basement-blues-breathing, glitter-spittin' beast of glam pop that's poised to incinerate the ennui of indie music. Golden-throated frontman Drew Gillihan and his scrumptious band of lookers whip out joyous anthems that embrace everything from ragged Southern rock and low-country stompers to bedazzled nuggets of pop perfection that show off the band's wicked virtuosity. Minus a few gallons of sweat, the album manages to capture the vibe of the group's combustible, live shows that never fail to pack a room. A handful of opening dates (including a stop at the National on March 21) with the acclaimed jangle rockers, the Head and the Heart, will expedite the inevitable ascent of the Girls to wider audiences. All of this smack-your-granny goodness won't stay local for long.

— Hilary Langford

Black Girls will perform at Kingdom on Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. and with the Head and the Heart at the National on March 21 at 9 p.m.

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Wendy Rene, "After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax and Volt Singles and Rarities 1964-1965" (Light in the Attic)

After the Wu-Tang Clan and later, Alicia Keys, used Wendy Rene's 1964 debut single, "After Laughter (Comes Tears)" — minor key melody built around a memorable Hammond B-3 riff from Booker T. Jones — many people rediscovered the Southern soul singer. This restored, 22-song anthology collects the Memphis, Tenn., native's Stax and Volt singles and rarities (plus a few minor unreleased tracks) as well as nuggets from her early group, the Drapels. The crisp-sounding songs feature strong melodies, gritty backup vocals, and some classic R&B session work from the likes of Jones, the MGs and guitar legend Steve Cropper, whose fun, dance-craze styled "Bar-B-Q" kicks things off. You can easily hear Rene's childhood gospel influence — check out the swelling vocals and piano on "Reap What You Sow." And feel-good numbers such as "Gone for Good" are instantly catchy. Throughout, Rene's vocals can jump from a teenager's wails over romances gone bad to a full-grown powerhouse beyond her years. She got her stage name from Otis Redding, but Rene (Mary Frierson) dropped out of show business in 1967 to raise a family. Her final show, which she canceled at the last minute, would have put her on the ill-fated plane that killed Redding and six others.

— Brent Baldwin

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The Plimsouls, "Beach Town Confidential: Live at the Golden Bear 1983" (Alive Records)

Some people recall the Plimsouls as the band featured in "Valley Girl," others as an early vehicle for untiring troubadour Peter Case, and still others as simply a fantastic '80s group that was a much-needed antidote to the hair metal and synth pop plaguing the musical times. But you need a soul check if you don't feel revved up by this live set of the band pleasing the crowd at a now-legendary Huntington Beach, Calif., nightspot. Coming off as both good timey and edgy, the group rips through many of the British Invasion- and roots rock-tinged power-pop standouts that made minor classics of their 1980 EP "Zero Hour," an eponymous '81 debut long player, and its follow-up, '83's "Everywhere at Once." If anything, these blistering live cuts make it sound as if the studio concoctions came up short in showcasing the Plimsouls' considerable force. For good measure, they wear their influences proudly via energized covers of songs by '60s favorites such as the Creation and Moby Grape. Enjoy this fine reissue as '80s nostalgia or just as a fabulous live record by a top-notch act performing band at its peak.

— Brian Greene

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DVD: "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone"

Fishbone burst out of nowhere in the early '80s by defining its sound — a get-out-of-the-way mixture of ska, punk, funk and metal that influenced many more famous groups, most of them lame. But the members of Fishbone thrilled crowds with spastic sweat fests (how did they even play their instruments?) that earned them a major label deal and eventually, a journeymen career to nowhere that continues today. Led by one of rock's most stylish frontmen, Angelo Moore, the band never could quite capture its live magic on albums, nor write hits like worshipful followers No Doubt or the Chili Peppers. As one interview subject sadly puts it, "They were too black for white audiences, and too white for black audiences." Narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, this documentary from Lev Anderson and Chris Meltzer tells the group's frustrating story particularly well — its origins in segregated Los Angeles are recounted through funny "Fat Albert"-style animation. The heart and soul, respectively, are Moore and easygoing bassist Norwood Fisher; lifelong friends still struggling for art's sake, but hard-pressed to continue dealing with each other. Moore is a unique character, a Peter Pan-like, former Jehovah's Witness who goes off on tangents that can last years — remaining true to his vision at all costs. At its core, this is a story of perseverance and the dangers for a band that becomes too democratic. Like so many music docs, it sometimes can feel too close to the subject. But the film, like the band, probably deserves a third act.

— Brent Baldwin

Local Bin

Slika, “Grass Roots” (self-released)

Slika, (along with Marlo C.) was half of Dirty Souls, a ’90s rap duo that was signed to a label owned by D’Angelo. The album was never released, but each artist has continued to make music. “Grass Roots,” a mix of country-fried boom bap and thoughtful lyrics, is Slika’s debut. After a sluggish start, the album picks up speed with “Past Myself,” where the rapper struggles with his greatest adversary: “When I get a strong idea I procrastinate / Thinkin’ bout the pros and cons till I con myself of doing anything at all.” He reunites with his former partner on “Whateva Da Case May Be,” a jazz-influenced track about perseverance and adversity. There’s a little fat to be trimmed, such as a skit and outro that don’t add to the project’s momentum. The title track, a braggadocio number that challenges mainstream hip-hop, is a standout. Slika’s bluesy monotone style is a perfect fit for most of the music on this impressive debut. If Goodie Mob had been produced by DJ Premier, it might’ve sounded something like “Grass Roots."

— Craig Belcher

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