Flash Girls, Maurice & I (Fabulous Records, 1995)

Emma Bull is a science fiction and fantasy writer, having published a number of sometimes odd works including War for the Oaks, Territory, and Bone Dance: A Fantasy For Technophiles. Lorraine Garland is a "comic book assistant." Emma and Lorraine perform together as The Flash Girls; they both sang and Lorraine fiddled. Take the Nields, Boiled In Lead (literally), Susan Voeltz, Cordelia's Dad, and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of Altan, add sometimes bizarre lyrics and voila! a vague approximation of The Flash Girls. Emma and Lorraine were based in Minneapolis and in fact won the 1994 Minnesota Music Award as Best World Folk Group. Maurice and I was their second CD, mostly acoustic and featuring not only Lorraine on fiddle, but veterans of Boiled In Lead (Adam Stemple on Wurlitzer, Drew Miller on dulcimer and Kugelhorns, Todd Menton on Fender electric 12-string) and Emma's band Cats Laughing (Lojo Russo on bass and mandolin, Steven Brust on doumbek, Adam Stemple again...). Others accompanists include John R . Burr and Nicole Loranne.

Emma and Lorraine dressed in dreamy and romantic clothes from the turn of the century and at times refered to themselves as Pansy and Violet. According to their promotional materials they prefered to be thought of as esoteric ("flat-out wackiness," says Folk Roots), and they were. They were also talented and innovative.

Maurice and I begins with "Prince Charming Comes," written by children's book writer Jane Yolen, juxtaposing nursery images like Pooh and glass slippers with Prince Charming's Bann horse called death. The song is a taste of what is to come, as the Flash Girls and their alternating diaphanous and strong-willed vocals depended heavily at times on macabre visions and brittle morbid twists. Another song, "Banshee," written by DC comic writer Neil Gaiman, blends similarly fragile solo vocals with deathophilic lyrics: "I heard you screaming on the day my brother died..." Popping up in the middle of the CD is another Gaiman composition, "A Girl Needs a Knife." Charmingly, "It has a channel down the side for the blood to run."

Enough of death? Juxtaposing as they seem prone to do, Emma and Lorraine were only morbid enough to hone a sharp, hard, weird edge on the queue. Gentle juxtaposes were inserted, many drawn from the classics of traditional Celtic music. The best arrangement is of "Star of the County Down," with vocals as if of a wiry willow in the wind and doumbek-clad. I played this track on my Celtic radio show and the station manager came in and asked, "What was that?" ... and borrowed the CD. "Heathen Horse" is a traditional Irish fast dance tune, nicely highlighting Lorraine's adventuresome fiddle and Drew Miller's dulcimer. And then there's "Mike's Magic," which includes Adam Stemple on "duck" and closes with a vocal bagpipe chorus of "Scotland the Brave." Aye, lassies....

One of the more interesting tracks on Maurice and I is Alan Moore and Tim Perkins' "Me and Dorothy Parker." This "song" is about a "verbal killing spree," which predictably ends in disaster in Fresno... "when she cashed in some bad reviews." (Ouch!) The chorus is from "Comment" by Dorothy Parker: "Life is a glorious cycle of song/ A medley of extemporanea; And love is a thing that can never go wrong/ And I am Marie of Romania."

"Yetti" provides comic relief. Emma's "Amaryllis" and Mark Henley's "November Song" provide normal singer-songwriter relief. Additionally, "Twa Bonnie Maidens" proves to be yet another Celtic chestnut. O'Carolan was obviously popular with The Flash Girls.

Despite the challenge of juxtaposing these several genres, The Flash Girls and Adam Stemple, who produced Maurice and I, succeeded in constructing a unique -- and esoteric -- recording. The overall "sound" of the recording is consistent; the arrangements were interesting and original ... the vocals were appropriate for their purpose, although at times I wished they could have been a bit less diaphanous. Altogether a good selection for enthusiasts of unusual and innovative acoustic and Celtic music.

[Judith Gennet]