As a big fan of The Rezillos/The Revillos, I was pleased to see that Fay Fife had recently struck out on another project of her own, The Countess of Fife. Their first three songs were Bandcamp releases that came in rapid succession a while back, but this Monk is stupidly resistant to download only music; usually tossing his scant coin at actual physical goods that make beautiful noises. I noted to “follow” the group in Bandcamp several months ago and caught wind of a new live EP on the way. I received the notice early last month that the EP had gotten a release and noted with approval that there was a physical CD this time. The vibe was going to be the big voice of the famously day-glo Scot pop punk pioneers trying on some more soulful, country-influenced tunes in a radically different setting. Color me intrigued!
When I received a note this week from the singing artist herself, well, that’s a pretty effective way of catching my attention! I needed to buy that CD for a review. No sooner did I sign off with Ms. Fife than I engaged Mr. Duncan Watson of the comments with some questions about the CD since he was the guy on Discogs who posted the release in the database. We met online ages ago in the late, lamented OMD forum [another 2020 death] and he’s since popped up at PPM in the comments. In no time at all he insisted on buying me a copy which I graciously accepted. I may be broke, but I’m not stupid. My immediate thought was to see if he already had the first three singles from The Countess of Fife on Bandcamp and when I saw he didn’t [the BC interface tells us who bought what] I pounced and gifted him [and myself] with copies of these earlier singles in a case of instant karma. Better to review these three singles up front as I await the arrival of the new EP, so this tale is guaranteed to have a sequel in a short while.
The first single was a twangtastic throwback to the sort of gritty, female country-pop of the late 60s to early 70s that suggested the love child of Nancy Sinatra and Lynn Anderson. Guitarist and singer Allan McDowall [he of Scot cow punks So You Think You’re A Cowboy] provided chug while drummer Ted McKenna and bassist Chris Agnew kept the beat more intense than the Countrypolitan period usually had. The middle eight where McDowall and Fife traded off lines over Noonan’s insistent backbeat suggested a return to the days of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra making country pop with sass and bite; albeit much better singing. Listen [and buy] below.
The next single was “Wandering Star [live version]” which was, thankfully an original song and not the Lerner + Loewe chestnut. It began by mirroring the atmospheric vibe of The The’s “Kingdom of Rain” [complete with foley thunderstorm] while the live recording managed to also move in the direction of Classics IV’s “Spooky” with the drum tempo from McKenna along with Fife’s subdued organ drones. Where the song really soared was in the major key chorus where Ms. Fife unleashed her vocal power along with her finely tuned use of vibrato that really sold this beautiful song. I’ve heard so many singers get stuck in the vibrato tarpit, but she negotiated the tricky technique with aplomb here. Hear for yourself below.
The third of these singles was something else altogether. “Your House is Full Of Baby Dolls” was a far more intense vibe; landing close to the garage soul of The Box Tops thanks to McKenna’s urgent backbeat, and a descending guitar hook from McDowall. Ms. Fife’s organ solo on the middle eight was garage rock bliss as the bass of Chris Agnew syncopated with the drums. The bite that Ms. Fife delivered her lyrics with put this one a little closer to what we expect from The Rezillos of the three songs here. Enjoy, below.
Up front I’d heard that this was more of a country/blues vibe than the pop rock we normally associate with Ms. Fife. Yes, I’d certainly say that “Don’t Dress Me Up” came closest to that ideal, with “Wandring Star” being more bluesy, but the garage rock of “Your House Is Full Of Baby Dolls” made me think that the band name “The Countess of Fife” was maybe a play on words with The Count Five of “Psychotic Reaction” fame. The surprising garage rock DNA on offer here was certainly of a similar strain.
We all knew that Fay Fife had a love for Shadow Morton 60s pop and these new songs reveal an further expanding of her style with previously untouched visitations on the tougher, feminist country pop of the late 60s and early 70s as well as a penchant for garage rock somewhere in between. The band and singer deliver these songs with a generous helping of Scot soul that leaves me eager to hear the band’s new “Live” EP just released and currently en route to my monastic mailbox. Join us soon for part two of this discussion!
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This stuff is freakin’ great! I’ve always loved her vocals, and this Nancy Sinatra meets Dusty in her prime is hitting the sweet spot! It’s really nice to see her expanding the range of styles, and she seems to fit them all like a hand in a glove. I’m excited to hear more!