When the sum of the parts adds up to next-to-nothing
by Seth Rogovoy
(PITTSFIELD, Mass., November 3, 2002) – In their show at the Berkshire Museum on Saturday night, the Four Bitchin’ Babes were something less than an ensemble and something more than separate entities – but not much. While in theory singer-songwriters Sally Fingerett, Camille West, Debi Smith and Suzzy Roche join forces in Four Bitchin’ Babes to create a kind of female Traveling Wilburys of the contemporary-folk set, in practice the whole equals just about the same as the sum of the parts, no more and no less.
Unfortunately, those parts don’t add up to much to begin with. This made for an uneven evening of entertainment, which at any moment was only as strong as the song being sung. And far too many of the songs were ripe with sentimentality, from Debi Smith’s cliché-ridden “Bob Dylan’s Poetry,” about a high school girl’s crush on her hippie English teacher, a song which just had to have him get fired at the end for being different and then send him off to fight in Vietnam (in case the listener wasn’t already cringing at the bell-bottoms he wore and his John Lennon eyeglasses), to Sally Fingerett’s overwrought ballad about the gay couple that lives next door.
Add to the mix Camille West’s musical comedy bits about a dildo and viagra -- the latter just one long excuse for erection double-entendres -- and Suzzy Roche’s what-am-I-doing-here quirky, absurd portraits of the post-bohemian life (“Spear Carrier: A Life in the Theater”) and her prayer songs from her recent solo album, “Zero Church,” and you have mixed-up confusion of the forgettable kind.
Perhaps had there been some attempt made at tying the singers’ four, disparate approaches and sensibilities into an organic (or inorganic) whole, maybe it would have gone down easier. Instead, what you had was a round-robin showcase of each performer’s wares, a kind of you show me yours and I’ll show you mine, with a few gratuitous vocal harmonies and some instrumental backup offered in support, but not much else.
Nor was there much interplay among the performers. Each one pretty much took turns alone in the spotlight, and aside from an occasional interjection, there really wasn’t much sense of a shared joy in each other’s music. Rather, one was left with the distinct impression that each piece either provoked jealousy or disdain among the cohort.
Not that there was much to be jealous of. It became plainly apparent early on that the movitation behind teaming up as Four Bitchin’ Babes was a practical one – that none of these singer-songwriters boasted the presence or material to hold an audience’s attention for an entire show. With her two other sisters in the Roches, Suzzy Roche shared a quirky chemistry that was utterly absent here. Camille West could probably sustain her brash, sex parodies as part of the musical cabaret from which they come, but over the course of an evening’s concert the lowbrow humor wore thin very quickly.
Smith also used to be part of a sister act, but her solo material was undistinguished. And Fingerett never really has enjoyed much success as a solo singer-songwriter; her biggest break, outside of a career as a commercial songwriter, was when Christine Lavin first invited her to join the Babes, but she has yet to parlay that into a viable career as a folk performer.
And so we were left with the Four Bitchin’ Babes passing themselves off as the bastard spawn of Peter, Paul and Mary and the Smothers Brothers, but without the strong focus or material that defined either of those groups.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on November 5, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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