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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CD Review: RTX - Got Live RTX

RTX - Got Live RTX
2008 Drag City Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Jennifer Herrema might be considered a street Renaissance savante given her underground dwellings in rock, art, modeling, writing and production. You might remember Herrema as one-half of Royal Trux, which Herrema started with Neil Hagerty at the age of 16. Throughout the years, Herrema has kept up a beneath-the-radar though highly productive career, releasing over 20 albums, generating numerous articles for music mags (including inties with Keith Richards and John Lee Hooker), had her gutter-influenced art sponsored in various galleries including a traveling show ("Kitty Ex") in Japan. Her tougher-than-you facade found Herrema in front of the camera for a handful of advertisements including Calvin Klein, as well as the indie film Southlander. For you fans of greasy hard rock, she's played with Artimus Pyle of Artimus Pyledriver amongst many others. Add to the pot co-ownership roles of Drag City Records and Domino Records, and one might say the lady's done it all.

In her band RTX, Herrema takes a meaty, low-slung approach in which the seventies through the mid-eighties spin in continuum. Coming off somewhere between Betsy Bitch and Wendy O. Williams, Jennifer Herrema is less about shock value than those comparables, but with a raw production value and let-the-band-do-as-it-will approach, Herrema simply has to be in her band and on her newest album Got Live RTX, odes of vintage J Geils Band, Emotional Rescue Stones, Hanoi Rocks, Krokus and Peter Frampton (yes, Frampton) accent the hard-driving snarl that rocks the album like a lost seventies trash classic.

In my recent interview with Alice Cooper for Hails & Horns magazine, Uncle Alice made a terrific point about bands being overproduced and how he was nowadays favoring bands with far less production in exchange for more compensatory attitude. RTX is hardly a bunch of wailing scags littering the album with distortion feed galore; however, distortion certainly plays a heavy hand in things ("Virginia Creeper" being a prime example) and in turn, Got Live RTX rings and rawks with every clang and clatter from the proverbial kitchen sink. Filled with Frampton-esque tubular "talk box" huffing and guitar jerking at every turn on cuts like "Mr. Wall," "Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl," "How'd You Do It?" and the persnikkity "You Should Shut Up," Jennifer Herrema has a rhythm section filled with as much gas as they do understated proficiency.

Put into the hands of an eighties-LA-spit-shine-capitalist-minded producer, Got Live RTX would likely blow up in its face despite its sharp capabilities. A more metallic-driven song like "Hash" on the face appears tailor-made to put Herrema and her crew on a bill between Smashed Gladys and L.A. Guns, however, the stripped production ambience retains the tune's integrity. Ditto for "Birthday Song," which could easily prance and horn-toss in the Troubadour on stiletto heels on its best day, but its shambling nature saves it from turning overtly wankerish.

There's a reason Jennifer Herrema has been doing her thing for so long. Her vocal delivery is smoke-choked and often as if her only care is getting through the take without having to call up a redo. That's no insult, assuredly. Beneath the asphalt chalk dwells cloaked professionalism, and that's the giddy subtlety to Got Live RTX, the fact that Herrema and company can be so Metal Mania beneath the chains.

Rating: ****

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