- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

For music listeners who’ve finally grown a bit sick of “jangly guitar rock,” the Pipettes present themselves as a cure-all. They’re a seven-piece crew from Brighton, England, that stars three cute-as-a-button gals, each with a strong predilection for ‘60s-style harmonies, choreographed dance moves and matching polka-dot dresses.

To the unconverted, the group’s chipper-sounding tunes might resemble a bit of gimmick, or at least a passing fad. (Their lyrics, on the scale of British female singers, lie somewhere between Corinne Bailey Rae sweetness and Amy Winehouse brashness.) But it’s hard to rebut singer RiotBecki’s claim that the world is slightly overpopulated with those woe-is-me rockers, you know, “those boys who look like they just rolled out of bed, complaining about their days and how terrible they are up on stage.”

“That’s not music,” she says. “That’s a lifestyle choice. We wanted to bring a bit more pride and effort back into music.”

Formed in 2003, the septet made a mark on Britain last summer with the full-length “We Are The Pipettes,” which came in at No. 41 and hatched two Top 40 singles: “Pull Shapes” and “Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me.” With easy rhythms that incite two-stepping and double claps, their tracks meld the sensibilities of pop-princess predecessors like the Shangri-Las with the spunk of more modern-day acts such as Toni Basil (“Mickey”) and Bananarama. In other words, it’s a celebration of pure pop that, for many people, is great fun to hear.

Although the Pipettes were the toast of this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, their music hasn’t been readily available this side of the Atlantic. That’s all about to change, however; the gang starts a U.S. tour in June, set to coincide with the American release of the EP “Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me.” If all goes well, this one-two punch will leave music listeners hungry enough to devour the band’s first American full-length, which drops on Aug. 28.

Despite the group’s potential success on these shores, though, fans here will have a lot of catching up to do. RiotBecki explains that on the Pipettes’ latest U.K. tour, most of the audience joined in for several dance routines. It actually unnerved her and her band mates a bit. “We worry they’ll hit the person next to them,” she says, “but luckily, no fights have broken out yet.”

The Pipettes hit D.C.’s Black Cat (www.blackcatdc.com) Saturday at 9 p.m.

Cowtown girl grows

“I couldn’t wait to get out of the Midwest,” says Elana James, a fiddling hot jazz/Western swing singer originally from Kansas City, Kan.

After years of delivering Americana music to audiences around the globe, however, she says she’s finally achieved an appreciation for her heartland roots.

“I used to think places like Mongolia, Azerbaijan and India were exotic and stimulating,” she says, “but over there, what’s exotic is Texas, and going down the street on a tractor and playing the fiddle. I’ve been able, through travel, to understand where I came from through being an ambassador of this culture.”

This isn’t the first lesson that Miss James (born Elana Fremerman) has learned through music. Others include discovering that there’s a world beyond the classical canon for violinists, and that when life throws you a curve ball, sometimes it’s for the best.

A classically trained musician, her musical horizons opened after she moved to New York City for college. There, she met guitarist Whit Smith and began gigging with him, first in the cowboy swing collective Western Caravan, then in their own trio, Hot Club of Cowtown.

“I never would’ve put together that violin could’ve been used in a more pop music format,” she says. “But when I discovered this Americana music, I immediately loved the feeling of playing in a plugged-in, hip environment. As a classical musician, you never have access to that.”

Cowtown fashioned a whimsical blend of early jazz influences and folky country flair, and was invited on Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson and State Department international tours. Then the curve ball: In 2005, Mr. Smith threw in the towel.

His announcement rattled his musical partner. But she took some time to regroup, changed her last name and recorded her own delightful solo album with talented backing musicians.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever led my own band, and it forces you to grow,” she says. “I think my singing has gotten better just by virtue of having to come up and do it.” Mr. Smith has since rejoined the team and accompanies Miss James on her current tour, which comes to Arlington’s Iota Club & Cafe (www.iotaclub and cafe.com) tomorrow at 9:30 p.m.

In addition to her scheduled concerts, the calm-voiced songstress hopes to do a little busking along the road.

“It’s so fun to surprise people like that, and also to connect to people,” she says. “Some people would never consider listening to this music, but they come up on the street and find they really enjoy it.”

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