Like the sublimely seedy roadside joints of America’s rural South — where you can shoot pool, buy fishing worms and have your lawnmower repaired all in the same room — Fetchin Bones are dedicated to the sort of unexpected variety that somehow seems to work. On their debut album, the North Carolina quintet peddles an exciting mix of revved-up rock, country twang, folk, blues and swing, driving it all home with unrestrained energy and unpolished charm. The crazed quaver in singer Hope Nicholls’ voice provides the heart of the Bones’ sound; three songs without her lead vocals are the album’s weakest cuts. Producer Don Dixon admirably translates the group’s wild-eyed persona to vinyl, but this is a band that must be seen live for a full grasp of their eclectic frenzy. Delightfully different graduates of the R.E.M.-inspired school of Southern pop. (The CD and cassette add three tracks.)
Although docked a few fun points for a lack of focus, Bad Pumpkin basically stays the course, with equally direct Dixon production, rough-hewn playing, strong original songs and more inspired Nicholls warbling. Gary White’s spicy guitar work and bassist Danna Pentes’ violin contributions provide a lot of the instrumental flavor; Marc Mueller keeps things moving along at a brisk pace with lickety-split country drumming.
The self-assured spunk of Galaxy 500 is immediately evident; a lineup shift (Mueller and White are gone, replaced by Clay Richardson and Errol Stewart) also contributes to the clear and feverish dynamo. The Bones’ control is clearly demonstrated by the juxtaposition of the wild’n’funky “Sammy” with the sweeping prettiness of “Steamwhistle.” Alternating between a guttural growl, a delicate folk sensibility and a half-dozen other voices, Nicholls is a commanding vocalist; the songs rise and fall strictly on her sing-so. (The CD adds six tracks.)
Monster proved to be Fetchin Bones’ last hurrah, and it’s a bang-up finale. With Ed Stasium’s powerful but disciplined production lending new focus to the band’s brashly metallic lurch, Monster is simultaneously the Bones’ most commercial album and their best. Nicholls has never sounded more inspired or possessed, frantically spitting out the likes of “Love Crushin’,” “Bonework” and “Say the Word” with a renewed sense of purpose. Indeed, Monster‘s best moments suggest that, if they’d been inclined to stick around, Fetchin Bones might have carved themselves a niche playing heavy metal for people with a sense of humor. (Following the split, several ex-Bones reorganized as Second Skin.)
On their own, Mueller and White formed the Skeeters with bassist Marco Heeter and issued Wine, Women and Walleye, a charmingly ragged rock-pop-folk-rock record produced by Tim Lee. White’s Neil Young-ish guitar solos spiff up intriguing material with a smartass streak that surfaces in tunes like “Slummin” and “Center of the Western Hemisphere.” There’s even a raving surf-twang instrumental number called “Porno Rock.” Neat.