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The best kept secret in music


"splendid > reviews > 1/31/2002"

I Feel Pretty

Format Reviewed: CD

"Hey hey, my my, rock 'n' roll will never die" is a comforting sentiment for those raised not on the beginnings of the music, most of whom have long since moved on from rock's sometimes cheap thrills, but on the self-mythology of its quick-to-develop nostalgia. The Ohio trio that make up Clabbergirl flirt with the comforts of this self-reference in the most obvious ways: The opening "Natural Disaster" sports the same choppy "duh-duh -- duh" guitar riff and melodic chorus that have entranced arty indie rockers from Wire to Elastica. Like the latter band, who ended up owing the former some money for appropriating a riff just a bit too closely, Clabbergirl occasionally take the admonition "great artists steal" to an extreme. "Wait"'s chord progression comes straight out of the "Learn to Play Guitar with Guided By Voices" songbook, and the bridge even cribs a line from the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night". It's not a long, or even particularly distinctive, phrase -- "'Cause when I get you alone" -- but there's an undeniable moment of frisson, as evocative of rock history as the sunny '60s revival glow of "Let You Down" or the '70s Big Star vibe found on "Goodbye". (It should be said that the line "Can I get a witness?" evokes Public Enemy only in the most literal sense of sharing the same words.)
What's interesting -- reassuring, even -- is how little the above trainspotting actually matters when you're listening to the songs themselves. "Wait" and "Let You Down" are unadulterated pleasures, as are most of the other eleven tracks on I Feel Pretty. Mandolin and accordion give "Would It Matter?" a Celtic tinge; "Fly" benefits from the cello that sneaks into the song's final third. Most of these instrumental flourishes occur in the first four songs, as if the band decided to front-load the special moments as a hook, leaving the rest of the album to move in a more straightforward, unadulterated form. The echoey vocal and arena-rock guitars of "Baby Love" highlight the song's (intentionally?) creepy jailbait lyrics: "5 foot 2 with hair down to her shoulders / a blue-eyed black-haired angel / I wish you were just a little bit older / ...Crawl across your bedroom floor / Falling down but someday I'll show you all / The things you waited for." Clabbergirl are at heart a power-pop band, and that's a good thing for those of us easily suckered by spiky guitars anchored to catchy three minute tunes.

The closing "Awake" depicts a crumbling relationship with a beautiful, hummable melancholy ("Every time you turn away / I know it's over and there's nothing to say / You're still asleep and I'm so awake"). The song also implicitly acknowledges its creators' backward-looking sensibility, with an eloquent testimony to the power rock 'n' roll: "A thousand records never told the truth about you." Maybe not, but that doesn't stop us from listening.

-- Ryan Tranquilla

- splendid

"clabbergirl release"

clabbergirl release: Local pop power trio clabbergirl is out with its first full-length CD, ''I Feel Pretty,'' which finds these clever musicians and writers with a tremendous 13-cut collection of thrashing power rock originals that cries out to be cranked up.

The band of Sean Rhiney (vocals/bass), Brian Halloran (drums) and Al Valvano ( guitar) likes to brag about being true products of the Cincinnati pop scene, having met at a psychodots concert in 1995.

They play out as a trio, but have raved up their power pop songs on the CD with a great collection of local musicians contributing everything from accordion and mandolin to viola and harmonica on the disc. It amounts to a great lush addition to the usual power rock sound.

However, Rhiney laughs and says that indeed poses a problem when they play live. ''I know people expected a punky, pop, fast album which is how we sound live,'' Rhiney said. ''But that's limiting, so people have said they like this because it doesn't sound how we do live. ''

Local musicians on the album include folksters Mark Messerly and Brian Ewing and rockers Bill Donabedian (Crosley) and Eric Diedrichs (Simpletons).

Rhiney says all the extra musicians on the album will be playing at the CD release party 10 p.m. Saturday at the Mad Frog, McMillan and Vine, Corryville. (Cover $5, $10 includes a CD.)

- Cincinnati Post

"Rhythm in the City"

Distance doesn't stop Clabbergirl from jamming

By Sarah Knott

Yes, it's the name of an old-fashioned baking powder. But there's not much antiquated about Clabbergirl, a Cincinnati rock trio. Punk undertones, pop elements, rock hooks and a member living in Indianapolis make for contemporary situations, musically and physically.

"We get less practice than any other band in the world," says vocalist/bassist/songwriter Sean Rhiney about the band's long-distance relationship. Guitarist/vocalist Al Valvano lives two hours away in Indianapolis and must travel to the Queen City for recordings, rehearsals and shows. At first, Clabbergirl says, the situation was regional, dividing their time between Ohio and Indiana and playing lots of Indianapolis shows.

But six years later, this rock/pop group has morphed into a true local favorite. And by tapping modern technology, i.e. MP3s, Al can practice new riffs and songs at home. Does it make it easier? No, says Clabbergirl. It's still difficult to maintain creative flow while being far apart. For example, Clabbergirl usually won't rehearse a new song until two hours before a show. But instead of whining and complaining, Clabbergirl has simply made their difficulty part of their philosophy: always having something to debut.

"It's the ethic that we have: to try new things and experiment," says Sean. "We do the best we can."

"We're a product of limited time," adds drummer Brian Halloran. "It might be different if we could sit down and practice and have Al's input. We've had the opportunities to get a new guitarist, add a bassist. But none of us have wanted to do that."

"We're three friends," says Sean. "That's the basis for what we do."

Right now, these three padres are concentrating on releasing their first ever full-length CD (their first release since 1999, as well). Why six years before a CD? Clabbergirl has released critically acclaimed singles, most of which were placed on the annual WOXY local compilation album (in 1995, 1996 and 1997). But with such a cache of songs, the boys started to feel like it was time to go over the three-song limit and record something substantial. The process began in January 2000; distance issues, practice time and recording studios hindered the project. Then, a friendly contest at Allyn's weekly singer/songwriter night got going and turned Clabbergirl into writers afire.

"Some regulars at Allyn's issued a personal challenge to write a song a week," says Sean. "It expanded, I got involved, and it gave us some songs that we ended up liking."

The result is a 10- to 12-song CD slated for a late summer release.

"We want to take out time and make sure it meets our standards," says Brian of the extended wait. "We've recorded 17 songs. If we had done this in 1996..."

"The album would have been 30 minutes long," says Sean, laughing about Clabbergirl's old ways of playing songs as fast as possible.

"We were in one contest once that gave every band a 30-minute set. We played 15 songs in that amount of time." He laughs, as does Brian, but both admit that old habits are hard to break-Clabbergirl's early punk-esque characteristics can't be shaken, despite the improvements that time and age provide.

"We've gained confidence as instrumentalists, as singers, as writers, which add nuances to what we are," says Sean. "We still have developments to make. Our second album will be even better."

- Cincinnati Enquirer

"Locals Only"

This week Clabbergirl, one of Cincinnati's prime Power Pop trios, releases their debut album, I Feel Pretty. The long-awaited album has been in the works since January by the tuneful trio, who formed in 1995.

Sean Rhiney (bassist/lead singer) met Brian Halloran (drummer) in law school. They met Al Valvano (guitarist/singer) at a psychodots show and soon after the three collaborated to form Clabbergirl. The trio says that there wasn't much thought into figuring out what the group's name would be.

"The three of us were drinking at a bar one night, and I just saw it on a sign on the wall ... Clabbergirl," Rhiney says (Clabbergirl is a brand of baking powder). "And it has worked for us ever since."

Clabbergirl had its previous recorded efforts documented by four appearances on local Modern Rock station WOXY's 97Xposure compilations (1995's "Happy Again," 1996's "Missing Ramona," 1997's "Be Around," and 2000's "Wait"). In addition, the band released the five-song EP Sinkhole in 1998 and a Christmas single in 1999. Since then, the band has appeared at Popopolis 2000, the Our Music fest in 1999 and the Indie Pop Overthrow in Indianapolis, as well numerous gigs with some of Cincinnati's best Pop Rock acts including Promenade, Crosley, Saving Ray, Gravy 8 and the Simpletons.

Recorded and mixed between January and August of 2001 at Covington's Backstage Studios, I Feel Pretty consists of 13 tracks ranging from Power Pop gems like "Wait" and "That Girl," to more subtle arrangements like "Fly" and "Would It Matter." Some of Cincinnati's finest musicians, including respected songwriters Mark Messerly and Brian Ewing, offer graceful touches of mandolin, accordion, viola and harmonica to the album. Other special guests include fellow Pop songwriters Bill Donabedian (Crosley) and Eric Diedrichs (Simpletons) who lend their harmonious vocals to "Fly."

"With this album," Rhiney says, "we attempted to rise above the sound of just three boys making noise and give new life to some of (our) previous Pop Rock compositions. Playing live tends to be local, sloppy and one dimensional, but with the recording we wanted to make it sound good."

While several of the album's tracks date back nearly two years, close to a third of the album resulted from a songwriting burst in February of this year. The occasion? A weekly songwriter challenge hosted by the Simpletons' Eric Diedrichs at Allyn's Café. The process of writing songs week in and week out by Rhiney, resulted in four new tracks for the slated release.

"Key influences on the album came right from our backyards," Rhiney says. "They are the guys that we play with: Crosley, Rockets to Mars, Ass Ponys and Guided by Voices. Songwriting here in Cincinnati has definitely gone up a notch, and the music scene in Cincinnati is thriving with talent."

Since the group's formation, they have had to sacrifice practice time due to Valvano's move to Indianapolis. But the quality of their sound has remained strong and true.

The idea for the album cover and title came from the movie Blue Velvet, starring Isabella Rossellini. The cover, which resembles Rossellini, exemplifies a woman with fair skin, blue eyelids and red lips. The damaged beauty portrays the saying, "I look pretty, but I don't feel pretty."

"The album covers a broad spectrum of my life," Rhiney says. "The 13 tracks on I Feel Pretty catalog the thoughts and feelings, both pretty and ugly, that accompany loss, longing and starting over. This is the hardest thing that I have ever done because the work is really personal. It is what it is; experienced, seen and felt."

- Citybeat


WOXY Compilation, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001
Please Daddy EP, 1999
Sink Hole EP, 2000
I Feel Pretty LP, 2001
Time, Benefit Single 2002
Counting Days b/w Free Wild Muse, datawaslost split single #5, 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


Spawned in 1995 from the same muddy Ohio River that birthed alt rock pioneers the Afghan Whigs and the Ass Ponys, power poppers' clabbergirl quickly developed a reputation for playing catchy, melodic songs very fast a la Manchester UK's Buzzcocks. Clabbergirl earned an unprecedented five appearances in modern rock station WOXY's annual 97Xposure Top 20, including a top 4 finish in 1996 and Band of the Year Honors in 2001.

Clabbergirl released its debut full length "I Feel Pretty" in September 2001. The disc blends the band's anthemic power rock sound with lush, subtle instrumentation. In 2002, the disc nabbed CD of the Year honors at the CAMMY (Cincinnati Area Pop Music) Awards as well as a CEA (Cincinnati Entertainment Awards) nomination for Best Rock Band. In 2003, the band released a split single "Counting Days b/w Free Wild Muse" with hip hop floetress Abiyah on the Datawaslost label.

The band has played NXNE (Toronto), Cutting Edge Music Conference (New Orleans), and the Midpoint Music Festival (Cincinnati).