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Album Review

WHIPSTITCH
Petticoat Black

Whipstitch has me stumped. Well, not really stumped, but a female-fronted rock/folk band out of, uh, Hopkins, Minnesota? I dug out the old Rand-McNally. Turns out Hopkins is part of the Minneapolis farm system, out by Minnetonka. In a way, that's too bad because a stirring tale of making music on the tundra, frostbitten fingers barely able to hold pick, would bring NPR a knockin'. I mean, you gotta have a gimmick these days, right?

Not really. What you have gotta have is the music and Whipstitch has that. Sounding like they are straight out of the British Isles, they wrap themselves around the sound of lesser known but very worthy bands like Piefinger and No Fixed Abode, unknowingly I am sure. It is the voice, mainly. And the songwriting. You can chalk it up to one Kyle McDonald whose voice is just outside the mainstream and alters the sound enough to take note, just as does Jana Carpenter for Piefinger and Una Walsh for No Fixed Abode. The songwriting? Again, I look at Piefinger and No Fixed Abode, the songs written by the bands collectively and while the songwriting credits are given to Kyle McDonald “and” Whipstitch, there is something about the music which makes me think more communal effort than not.

Look. I'm aware that making comparisons to virtual unknowns does little to pad the Whipstitch resume, but bear with me here. In years past, songs from Piefinger's 2006 album Where You Might Go and NFA's 2007 release Clearwater helped lead me on a path into the deep woods of the indies from which I do believe I will never emerge—- this by choice. Songs like What Did I Do and School Days (NFA) and Hedgerider and Sudden Intake of Breath (Piefinger) were crucial to my stepping beyond the fringe of the accepted and leaving the wreckage of music and musicians built upon myth behind. So make no mistake. Comparisons to those bands are, in my mind, a good thing.

I am aware of no myth behind Whipstitch beyond those started by myself (Tundra? Frozen fingers? Are you not paying attention here?) but I am aware of a string of very impressive tracks laid out by an equally impressive lineup of musicians and I was aware from the first few bars of the title track. Light and upbeat, Hiding Spot comes at folk from the rock side, helped along by the effective vocal phrasing of McDonald and the rock solid arrangement and production (by the band itself, by the way). They follow it up with No Sleep which has an odd mixture of 60s Brit Rock and Irish/Scottish folk music and there's no looking back. Token borrows from the folk as well as do the rest of the tracks, eight in all, and one can understand why they categorize themselves as folk. That folk influence, though, is subdued by rock. Seriously, I have no idea which idiot started the “unplugged” craze a number of years back, but my reaction was this uncontrollable desire to pass a law forbidding any decrepit rocker to purchase or play an acoustic guitar under penalty of death. The last thing the world needs are acoustic versions of Black Dog and Smells Like Teen Spirit, in my opinion, so when Whipstitch adds an electric rhythm guitar to their mix of rock/folk, I am ecstatic. Electric rhythm somehow has gotten lost in the rush toward the acoustic and my ears long for that amplified sound, thank you, and Petticoat Black provides. Not amplified as in rawk, but amplified as in rock. Handled correctly, it can make the difference between a sound you like and a sound you love.

There are eight songs here, though I want to say 'only' eight songs because these guys are too good to stay in one place and one wonders where they will go from here. More folk? Prog/folk? Hard rock? They could do it. Maybe these eight are just the warmup. I hope so. I've been waiting for a long time for new No Fixed Abode and Piefinger albums and there seems to be no relief in sight along those lines. But thank the gods for the Whipstitch's in this world, eh? They are new hope on the horizon.

This just in: To prove that critics are human and, really, no different than anyone else, I received this in an email from Sherman Bradley just this morning:

What a treat to see a review of Whipstitch, a band that I have seen a few times here in the Twin Cities.  They are up and comers and have started selling out weekend shows at good bars - the 400 just a few weeks ago (a place where the Jayhawks worked their early magic).

 A couple of things to correct in your review.  There is not a title track and there are only 7 songs on this EP. 

 

I agree with your thoughts on Hiding Spot and No Sleep which are also my favorites on this EP.  I also  think Partners to Me has got a chance at some radio play.  I also love your description of the odd mixture of 60s British Rock and Scottish folk.  That pretty much sums up the sound on this record.


He should have written “There is not a title track and there are only 7 tracks on this EP, you dunderhead” because in revisiting Petticoat Black I found he was correct. A simple glance at the songlist on the computer screen would have told me that, but I was struggling with my own demons (as usual) and my thirteen children were all down with the flu, my dog had just gotten run over, my wife's lawyer would not stop calling and the cows broke out of the lower 40. I wish. In my defense, let me say this--- I listened to the EP numerous times and can sing every one of those tracks in my head backwards and forwards and really dig the music and isn't that what counts? Please don't let my human frailties stop you from discovering this band. Like Mr. Bradley says, they are the real deal. Check them out.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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