Some bands take a while to develop a sound and grow into their skin. Milwaukee’s Testa Rosa seems to have been birthed fully formed, and hit the ground running.
Since their 2007 debut they have mined a sound richly textured, drawing as much from well-produced classic studio albums as high energy Punk/New Wave singles. Testa Rosa’s new album III (which may or may not be a nod to albums by Chicago band, Chicago) finds the quintet further refining a sound all but blueprinted on the first album.
Not one to be pigeonholed, the band has paid tribute to The Pretenders and The Shocking Blue at benefit shows. Last Fall, Testa Rosa front woman Betty Blexrud-Strigens curated an evening of Patti Smith’s music for the Alverno Presents series.
Yet it is their original music where Testa Rosa shines brightest. With a lineage that reaches back to Nerve Twins, The Frogs and Little Blue Crunchy Things, it should be noted these are not dilettantes we are dealing with here.
Employing breezy melodies that often prove to be a façade or prelude where something deeper is revealed, this is a band of strong players (Blexrud-Strigens – vocals/guitar/keyboards, Damian Strigens – guitars, Paul Hancock – bass, Bill Backes – drums, Nick Berg – keyboards), who conjure sonic tapestries over which Blexrud-Strigens’ lyrics take flight. And she continues to grow into a great teller of three-minute stories.
“The Summer of We Three” sketches a situation that might well have dripped off the pen of Tennessee Williams. Blexrud-Strigens’ knowing vocal sets the listener with the impression something sinister may be laying in wait, biding time in the fertile subtext.
This notion of pop noir is nothing new. Shadow Morton’s production with the Shangri La’s let alone Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill come to mind — but Testa Rosa adds a bit of production gloss that will catch the lazy listener off guard. Final track “Lost Loon,” closes the album swathed in gauze, and a mood that would make David Lynch proud.
Once again working with Smart Studios alumni, producer/engineer Beau Sorenson, the album is rife with sonic touches that gleam while still remaining slave to the song.
“…for words they never hear,” the final line of “The Fireman at the Well,” sounds instantly flat, and in your face, as the reverb attached to the isolated vocal track is stripped.
Lessons learned, hard-bitten lessons perhaps, but always at the basest level this is a band whose music offers more with each listen. Their evolution is well worth checking into.
The cover of Testa Rosa III depicts the band in shirtsleeves standing in front of a mammoth snow pile. This blending of fire and ice should be your first clue.