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Published: 2005/10/14
by Jesse Jarnow

You’re Only As Pretty As You Feel – Caroleen Beatty

Black Beauty Records 72009

Caroleen Beatty's You’re Only As Pretty As You Feel is the latest transmission from the brilliant Bay Area collective circulating around Black Beauty Records and genius fusion collective Mushroom who — in turn — are headed by drummer Pat Thomas. Like Mushroom’s Glazed Poppems, the sprawling double-gatefold LP they released last year, Thomas receives a "Directed and Produced by…" credit. For his newest picture, though, Thomas goes the opposite direction, placing just five songs in under half an hour. The selections — numbers by the Pentangle ("Sally Go Round the Roses"), Ginger Baker ("Toady"), Jefferson Airplane ("Pretty As You Feel"), and others — continue Thomas’s mission as both loving curator and delighted mutator of the psychedelic tradition.

Beatty's unpretentious belting is a nice complement to the thick grooves of Mushroom (on three tracks), and Heavy Friends (on the remaining two). Like many, Thomas and company call Miles Davis's electric period their biggest influence. Unlike most, though, they recognize that, while groove is important, texture is at least equally so. On Bill Withers' "Use Me," slathered sheets of reverberated trumpet (courtesy of Black Beauty resident multi-instrumentalist and Tom Waits buddy Ralph Carney) blur over Brian Felix's Headhunters-like clavinet, and endlessly refracting layers of wah-wahed electric pianos and guitars. Steve Wynn, frontman for revered indie forerunners Dream Syndicate, adds swirls to the Pentangle's "Sally Go Round the Roses," while Matt Royston uses sultry Hot Rats-style violin to support Beatty’s Grace Slick on the Airplane’s "Pretty As You Feel."

On the disc-closing "Toady," Brian Felix's piano skitters with dense melancholy, while Erik Pearson's flute flutters, Matt Cunitz's keyboards burble ominously, and Beatty and Alison Levy moan the refrain: "toady is horny." Like a less smarmy John Waters — or least someone who realizes that sex is often hilarious — Mushroom (whose Black Beauty imprint recently released a disc of blaxploitation porn soundtracks) juggle kitsch and sincerity. It takes very little of either to appreciate You’re Only As Pretty As You Feel, just hungry ears.

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