By Al Kaufman
Girl in a Coma are cooler than you. Deal with it.
The all-female San Antonio trio formed over their love of all things Smiths and Nirvana when Jenn Alva and Phanie Diaz were still in high school. They took in Phanie’s then 12-year-old sister, Nina, to sing and have never looked back. Joan Jett signed them to her Blackheart label. They got to tour with their idol, Morrissey, and also toured with Cyndi Lauper and the Pogues. This time around they’re playing with the cooler-than-cool Dresden Dolls. Their first two CDs, Both Before I’m Gone and Trio BC, met with great critical success in all the alternative presses. Oh, and they also have a lot of tattoos.
They are so cool that their latest CD, Adventures in Coverland, does not contain one song penned by Morrissey. That would be too obvious. And while many of the covers on here are, in fact, obvious choices for any cover band, they do them so damn well that you’ll want to hear them anyway. Nina Diaz’s vocals are warm and rich and will kick your ass. How this Texas girl is able to so easily sound like a self-confident, sultry, Brit (the late, great, Kirsty MacColl comes to mind) is beyond me, but I’m sure as hell not going to complain about it. It’s a voice with Patsy Cline’s warmth (and, yes, “Walkin’ After Midnight” is covered here) and Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano’s sheer force. It’s a voice that brings a swagger to Richie Valen’s “Come On, Let’s Go” and a coy poppiness to Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.”
Alva and Phanie Diaz also shine, such as on the metal opening to the Buffalo Springfield classic, “For What It’s Worth,” or the slow, Zeppelinesque opening of George Harrison’s “As My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which eventually gives way to a crush of guitar and drums.
There are some nice, unexpected choices on here. They chose Joy Division’s “Transmission” over “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and Nina Diaz shines over the finger snapping melody. In tackling David Bowie, they chose the lesser known “As the World Falls Down,” from the Labyrinth soundtrack; a beautiful song with a sort of show tune quality that Nina nails.
But, while the trio explored their Latin roots and included a couple of Spanish songs on their previous CD, the move that shows that they’ve really got some ovaries comes from opening the new CD with a cover of Selena’s “Si Una Vez.” It’s a simple Spanish guitar until the drums kick in. Then Nina swoops in and delivers all the passion and energy that Selena was known for.
The CD also includes a new original track, “Yo Oigo,” which is included in Robert Rodriguez’s ultra-violent thriller, Machete. The song provides the perfect backdrop to blow things up and chop off body parts. Sort of a spaghetti western sound with a south of the border flavor.
A range of songs this wide can only mean one thing; Girl in a Coma like good music. They are not riot grrrls, not punksters, not metal heads, they are just a great band, and a damn cool one. Adventures in Coverland cements that status.
Adventures in Coverland will be released October 19.
Girl in a Coma play the Masquerade on September 29.