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The hippest gal alive

The Toughest Girl Alive
The Toughest Girl Alive
By Candye Kane

Rounder Records: 2000

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This review first appeared on SignOn San Diego on July 16, 2000.

Candye Kane's got as big a voice as you'll ever hear, and the kind of brash swagger that Mae West wore so well. On her latest release, "The Toughest Girl Alive" on Rounder Records, she shows that she's got a musical vision to match that attitude and vocals. Ranging from swing to straight blues to boogie woogie to gospel to bawdy saloon songs, Kane's big-as-all-outdoors singing takes possession of each and every one of the baker's dozen tunes here.

Of course, surrounding her with folks like former Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin and swamp-rock piano queen Marcia Ball doesn't hurt things any. And pairing her with fellow San Diegan Earl Thomas for a duet on "Who Walks in When I Walk Out" was fair on close to genius.

Hard to compare her to anyone, really – but Tracy Nelson, the blues singer who came roaring out of the '60s with Mother Earth, isn't too far off the mark. Like Nelson, Kane can growl, swing, seduce and scream – often in the same chorus.

Her songwriting is every bit as good as her singing – she wrote or co-wrote nine of the songs here, and a couple are are so good that they're likely to find their way onto the albums of other singers. Of course, they might want to tone the lyrics down a touch – no reason to draw the wrath of Tipper Gore, not in an election year. Because Kane's songs are exactly the type of music that Tipper was warning the nation about in the early '80s when she went to Congress demanding warning labels on record covers. The lyrics are generally sexual and often crude – this isn't a woman accustomed to pulling her punches (although just how one would tone down a song with the title of "Let's Commit Adultery" is a toughie).

But with music just as earthy and honest as the words, few among the rest of us are likely to complain – be far too busy smiling and dancing ...