(Guitar Girl, CD, digital download)
Steph Pappas has been around the Burlington music scene for so long, it seems like she’s always been here. This writer has recollections of seeing her name on tattered show posters back in the 1990s, which was roughly a decade after she started rocking in Vermont. Pappas is a grinder, quietly plying her trade and pumping out record after record — at least nine, by our count, and probably more — whether solo, with her all-female band Miss Bliss in the 1980s or, most recently, as Steph Pappas Experience. Come to think of it, “quietly” is the wrong word for the self-described “psychedelic cowboy chick.” As SPE’s new record, Jellyfish, indicates, very little is quiet about Steph Pappas.
Her latest opens in ear-rattling fashion on the title cut. From a murky stew of dissonant, effects-laden guitars, Pappas unleashes a wordless, mewling howl. It’s jarring and, at first, a little grating. It’s also oddly hypnotic, and serves as a warning shot across our collective bow: Papas isn’t screwing around. Well, until she does.
The next track, “Pirate Fer Peace” is sinister blues-rock. Pappas has taken to calling herself “Jimi Hendrix’s baby sister.” Like her adoption of the term “experience,” it’s a reference to her impressive guitar chops and willingness to paint with a psychedelic palette. But, judging from this song and its lean, crunchy riffs and rakish attitude, perhaps she’s more like Jack White’s long-lost aunt.
“Energy” is a redux of a 2013 single, which was originally presented as jumped-up pseudo rap-rock. Spacey and slow, the new version shades more psychedelic-Western. If Björk had grown up in the barren expanse of the American Southwest instead of the barren expanse of Iceland, it might sound something like this.
“Danny,” presented with only guitar, drums and vocals, is sonically the most straightforward of the album’s 10 cuts. It’s also the most direct lyrically, centering on a friend who is retreating from life, “drifting and drinking.” Given the abundance of sound found elsewhere on the record — it features nine additional players on everything from bass and drums to sitar banjo and didgeridoo — the song’s uncomplicated tack is refreshing, and a reminder that Pappas is a sturdy songwriter, whether backed by a wall of noise or just her acoustic guitar.
Jellyfish by Steph Pappas Experience is available at cdbaby.com.