By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
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Now, finally, the band has a satisfactory response, in the form of a 10-song, self-titled collection that splits the difference between the group's traditional originals and classic blues workouts like the album-opening Jimmy Reed medley. The band members seem low-key about the release, less exultant about the finished product than relieved that they don't have to hem and haw any longer.
"We had all gotten very practiced at being apologetic," says Claire Griese, drummer for Sistah Blue. "'I'm sorry,' rolled off the lips real fast. We'd just say, 'We're working on it.'"
In fairness, the group had committed some of its music to tape before this, releasing a raw, living-room recording on cassette ("I thought it had a nice grungy quality," Griese says), and willingly serving as guinea pigs at the Recording Conservatory in order to get a couple of free demos done.
But for most of the band's loyalists, this release is the first legitimate offering. In getting its uptown-blues sound on tape, the group faced two formidable challenges: Re-creating the highly charged massive attack of their club gigs, and doing it on the most minuscule of budgets.
They settled on recording directly to two-track at Clarke Rigsby's Tempest Recording, with no possibility of overdubbing or fixing a mistake with punch-ins. It's an efficient process, but it's also problematic, because a singer's best take might be a guitarist's worst take, or vice versa.
"I found that I enjoyed it, but other people wanted to be more meticulous about it and felt themselves being really rushed," Griese says. "But sometimes it's better just to get the thing going.
"When you're in the studio, you hear a lot more, and you suddenly realize, 'Wow, we're not as tight as we thought.' That was the tough part, 'cause live there's always somebody making a mistake, always. Whether you guys hear it or not, believe me, we know it. But it's just in the moment, and you can let it go. But when you know it's being recorded, that's a lot tougher. Suddenly, you're a lot more hyper and aware. When we started playing the first song, we were very uptight and nervous."
Guitarist Nancy Dalessandro affirms this line of thinking, saying, "I never feel real comfortable in the studio," and adding that she would have been tempted to tidy up her parts after the fact, but the band's recording method precluded such an option.
Actually, in its own way, the CD makes a strong case for the band's intuitive ensemble abilities, as they comfortably leap from the slow grinders of Reed to the soul crooning of "You'll Lose Your Good Thing" to the Chicago strut of "For You, My Love."
Most impressive is Dalessandro's supercharged Texas-blues raver, "Lightnin' Boogie," in which the guitarist peels off snaky licks while Rochelle Raya lets off steam with some characteristically fierce harmonica blowing.
"The main criterion was that we wanted to get a variety of tempos and styles so that people wouldn't say, 'Wow, there's Shuffle A and there's Shuffle B,'" Griese says. "Second, we wanted to do stuff that was as tight as we could get it, that we knew we didn't have to think too hard about. There were a few that came out better than we thought, when we finally did the mastering. We thought we were only gonna have eight cuts on the CD. We ended up with 10, because after the mastering, it didn't sound half bad."
The mastering process also resulted in a sleeve-notes reference to the CD being a "(98 percent) live recording." Dalessandro says 99.9 percent would be a more accurate estimate, with the only exception being a three-note editing fix-up for what she calls a "vocal glitch."
The voice behind that recording glitch was Lila Sherman's, whose commanding and versatile vocal presence is one of the CD's unflagging strengths. Sherman was the band's singer when Sistah Blue formed in 1995, but she left two years ago, and was replaced by Danielle Castellanos. Griese says the band's parting of the ways with Castellanos last year stemmed from the singer's preference for "smooth R&B" over the rest of the band's grittier blues inclinations. Sherman's return to the fold only intensified the group's collective feeling that the time was right to get that CD done. Finally.
"Lila came back, and we decided, 'Oh God, it's been so damn long, let's get this damned thing out,'" Griese says. "'Cause it was really getting kinda ridiculous."
Sistah Blue is scheduled to perform on Thursday, February 4, at the Rhythm Room. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Private Dancers: Sipping Soma re-emerged from a self-imposed live performance sabbatical with a private-party gig at Cajun House on Monday, January 25. The techno-rockers had taken some time off when singer Diedre Radford was diagnosed last November with vocal calluses that would only disappear if she refrained from speaking or singing for at least a month.