Photo Credit: Columbia Records with permission to Entercom Buffalo LLC

#DiscoverAndDownload: Beth Ditto - "Fire"

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May 22, 2017
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It's tempting to set up a grand introduction for Beth Ditto on the occasion of her solo debut after disbanding the Gossip, but this native Arkansan can say so much in a few swaggerful lines over a pounding kick drum and bone-rattling bass guitar: "Two sisters, four brothers/Hard worker, like my mother/Not bitter, so sweet/Strawberry ca-ca-canned peach!" Those lyrics (from the Jacknife Lee cowrite "Oo La La") contain the fundamentals of Ditto's album Fake Sugar: family strength, punky grit, unabashed Southernness and the rural-rags-to-rock-royalty story of our hostess, who here turns strive and strife into music that is honeyed and familiar. Over an overhauled mashup of driving blues, malt-shop pop, swooning rock and countrified soul produced by Jennifer Decilveo (Andra Day, Ryn Weaver), Ditto approaches love, loss, looking back and moving forward with all the sexiness, poignancy, power and beauty you'd hope to hear from such an iconoclastic artist.

But all that paved the way for the fierce voice and strutting presence that opens this album. On "Fire," Ditto intones "get up-up-up if you want my love," before belting the song's title across a grinding mass of guitar, drums and keys cut with psych-pop and dubby effects recalling the deft touch of Danger Mouse. Fake Sugar's obvious passion is what'd been missing from Gossip's attempts at a sixth LP. After 17 years of kicking out increasingly dancy garage-punk, "nobody's heart was in it," says Ditto. Cofounder Nathan Howdeshell moved back to Arkansas, and she found herself in L.A., alone, meeting with songwriters about the band's next move. For better and for worse, she knew she'd become the focal point of the group. "I felt like if we fail, it's my fault and if we succeed, it's my fault," she says of her predicament — it was time. "The decision was basically made for me."

"I wanted this album to sound more Southern than it does," she says, "but when I try for an idea and don't succeed, it usually ends up better." If her roots don't always show in the music, they're there in spirit more than ever. Ditto was raised rural and poor in a town of 2,000 called Judsonia. Her mom was superhuman: a nurse, single, raising seven children. "People ask me where I get my confidence," says Ditto. "Talk to my mother. She'll tell ya she hasn't s*** alone since she had her first child at 15.'" Her dad was a different sort of hero: a honky-tonk sound man who, when it was his weekend, would take her to work, hop her up on Black Jack gum and Cherry Coke, and teach her to two-step with her feet on his boots. And then there was Granny Ditto, who chopped wood for her stove, canned the food she grew and never once had indoor plumbing. Ditto was surrounded by badasses, but it wasn't so simple back then. She had countless reasons to light out of town at the first chance and she did, at 18, with her future bandmates to the musical hub of Olympia, Washington, where they joined a community of punks, queers and noisy weirdos.

Which brings us to the family Ditto is building out West. "The first year of marriage sucks and no one tells you that," she says. "We were best friends, so we had to re-meet each other as wives." It wasn't rosy. Touring took a toll, disconnection crept, trust broke down. Ditto's insecurities pour out on the sober, expansive "Lover," but the couple found their footing, and Fake Sugar paints a broader picture of love that's as indulgently romantic ("We Could Run" is a U2-level epic call for getting swept away) as it is tenderly realistic: "Love in Real Life," with its lush bed of eerie Gary Jules-style piano-pop, finds Ditto cooing, "What more could we ask for, some kind of fantasy? / When there's no one I want more, more than anything." She considered calling the album Music for Moms in joking reference to the Gossip's 2009 LP Music for Men and her own settling down. "This is adulthood baby," Ditto quips. "You fought for marriage equality, now you gotta live in it."



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