Sisters Go Bangles
I keep neglecting this post on The Puppini Sisters, and the universe keeps reminding me to write it up.
Back in March, during an episode of NBC's Chuck, I heard a rendition of The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" in the close-harmony swing style of The Andrews Sisters piped into the background and was smitten. I'd just been introduced to The Puppini Sisters — a trio formed in the UK in 2004 that actually consists of one Puppini and two friends, I learn from their Wikipedia entry and a short interview with Marcella Puppini that's cited therein. Marcella's catalyst was the great French animated film Les Triplettes de Belleville; further inspiration came from those Andrews gals, their antecedents The Boswell Sisters, and Marlene Dietrich.
Marcella, Stephanie O'Brien, & Kate Mullins' two full-length CDs together, 2006's Betcha Bottom Dollar and 2007's The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo, mix renditions of such vintage material as The Chordettes' staple "Mr. Sandman" and the Andrews Sisters classic "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy [of Company B]" with covers of more contemporary pop like "Egyptian"; Woo also includes a few choice originals. Only a handful of songs are currently streamable at the Sisters' MySpace page, but clipped versions of many run continuously at their eponymous website. Sadly, I can't find a complete album version of "Walk Like an Egyptian" to share at this writing, and I don't link to illegally uploaded material as a general rule, but you'll get snippets at Amazon or the iTunes store. If you really want to hear the whole track before buying it you won't have to search very hard.
While their style is novel within the modern musical landscape, The Puppini Sisters
are hardly a novelty act reducible to a Boswell or Andrews Sisters pastiche. It's true that Blondie's "Heart of Glass" comes off as somewhat hokey in its perhaps too precise transposition to the close-harmony template, but the trio's version of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" is wildly creative in both vocals and instrumentation, veering from big-band sound through a weird fiddling interlude to the blues and back to big-band again, not just swinging but swinging for the fences. Most promising of all is the quality of the originals on Ruby Woo — like the most inventive of the covers, they beg to be replayed immediately. "Jilted" begins with smoky cabaret worthy of Dietrich or Peggy Lee and features cheekily modern lyrics; "And She Sang" is so hauntingly, colorfully baroque that my mind's eye owes Tim Burton royalties.
I'll stop now so that you can go listen to the music, but don't forget to come back and thank me.
Updated and revised February 2019
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