by Fred Mills
What if the Flamin’ Groovies had been fronted by Debbie Harry or the Runaways’ jail-bait fatale Cherie Currie? That’s but one of several retro-hypotheses that tickle the imagination while listening to the latest entry in the ever-expanding gee-rage sweepstakes. For, like the Groovies in their mid/late ’70s prime (particularly when Dave Edmunds was producing ’em), the Fondas are brazen altar-worshipers of the sounds of yesteryear. But also like the Groovies, they turn that worship into something vital and visceral — as opposed to revivalist or overly mannered.
With Julie Benjamin (also of Slumber Party, which has a new disc out shortly too) alternating between sex-kitten and tuff-girl mic chores, ex-Detroit Cobras guitarist Steve Shaw swapping fuzz and jangle licks with Mark Niemenski, and a killer freakbeat rhythm section by way of bassist Joe Burdick and trapsman Chip Sercombe, the Fondas make their debut with style and attitude to spare. In fact, they kinda play the early Kinks role to the Cobras’ early Yardbirds; where the Cobras incline to the soul/R&B side, the Fondas push a more pop/garage agenda.
As with the Cobras, the Fondas’ set list is composed almost exclusively of covers, barring the Niemenski-penned thumping anthem “Wanna Be.” So across this 14-songer you get ace interpretations such as: Hank Ballard’s “Where Is The Love,” served up like Paul Revere and the Raiders assaulting the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville”; Justine “Baby” Washington’s sassy R&B strut “Work Out,” custom-fitted for Benjamin’s mini-skirted vox; Mose Allison’s “Wildman On The Loose,” re-tied and Southern fried with chicken-pickin’ guit licks galore; Carl Belew and W.S. Stevenson’s “Stop The World And Let Me Off,” most famously done by Patsy Cline but here given a more high-energy Groovies vibe — not to mention some crucial girl-group nuances from Benjamin. Elsewhere are songs penned by Del Shannon, Don Covay, King Coleman and Nolan Strong, each benefiting from a unique, Fondariffic spin. (Worth noting is that many of the Fondas’ choices have Motor City roots; Shannon, Ballard and Strong, for example, were all born or worked extensively in the Detroit area.)
It’s not unusual to hear hipsters up in the peanut gallery sniffing, “But those are just cover tunes, oh, dear …” as regards records such as this. Bah. Said hipsters completely miss the goddamn point, just like the punks missed the whole point of the Groovies’ archive-trawling back in the day too. Oh, and FYI, collectors alert: Initial copies of the LP edition come pressed on brilliant blue wax. Shake some action, baby!
The Fondas will perform at the Lager House (1254 Michigan, Detroit) on Saturday, Sept. 6. Call 313-961-4668 for info.
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.