- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

Since the Bangles‘ heyday in the 1980s, singer Susanna Hoffs has added several bullets to her resume.

The California native became a wife, mother and solo artist during the 1990s, and the new millennium found her reconvening with the Bangles for a critically heralded reunion album. Although she continued touring with the group, Miss Hoffs also launched a partnership with fellow songwriter Matthew Sweet, whose fanaticism for ‘60s pop music rivaled her own.

Using Mr. Sweet’s home recording studio, the duo began recording new versions of classic ‘60s songs. The material encouraged Miss Hoffs to buffer her melodies with dense vocal harmonies — a talent she previously had honed to precision with the Bangles — and the resulting work was released in 2006 as “Under The Covers, Vol. 1.” Three years later, Miss Hoffs recently completed a second installment of “Under the Covers” — this one delving into the 1970s — while concurrently working on a new album with the Bangles.

“I always thought that nothing could compare to the ‘60s,” she admits, “but Matthew and I found that the 1970s was such a rich, musically diverse period. There was everything from singer-songwriter stuff — Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Carole King — to punk rock, stadium rock and prog. That was my whole ‘coming of age’ period, and those songs were the soundtrack to my life.”

Although the project required its creators to immerse themselves in vintage songs by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Raspberries and the Grateful Dead, it also encouraged Miss Hoffs to embrace new recording techniques.

“I was sort of paralyzed by how some aspects of the music business have changed so dramatically,” she explains. “When the Bangles were making records, the process involved being signed to a major label and going into a proper studio. You’d show up to a very expensive studio and be there all day.”

In contrast, the two musicians recorded “Under the Covers, Vol. 2” in their respective home studios, aiming for strong performances without obsessing about technical perfection.

“I’m now in a whole new phase of working on music,” Miss Hoffs says. “I try to keep the worry and the second-guessing out of it, for better or for worse. We’ll see how it goes!”

“Under the Covers, Vol. 2” will be released this spring. In the interim, Miss Hoffs continues to record and tour with the Bangles, who are in the midst of recording a new album with Mr. Sweet. The same dense harmonies that peppered “Under the Covers” also will fuel the Bangles’ new album, which the singer promises will be “very rock-sounding.”

Looking back on the band’s career, Miss Hoffs attributes much of the Bangles’ success to vocal prowess.

“It’s amazing, the sound of harmonies,” she muses. “It’s one of those sounds that I love, like the sound of a 12-string guitar or a dulcimer. I think this is something I share with [band mates Vicki and Debbi Peterson], and I’m really lucky to be in a band with sisters. There’s this sort of genetic blend that happens. It’s the same thing that the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees had. It’s magical; it’s mystical.”

The Bangles will play the State Theatre in Falls Church on Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m., with music beginning two hours later. Tickets are $30 in advance.

It’s All Good

Now entering its 13th year, the All Good Festival is the mid-Atlantic’s longest-running music and camping event. The festival is held each July in the mountains of West Virginia, whose topography serves as a natural amphitheater for the weekend-long festival. Like Floyd Fest, All Good blends pastoral environs with live music, creating an occasion whose scenery rivals its tuneful music.

Given Bonnaroo’s recent transformation into an eclectic, genre-spanning festival, All Good has become a primary destination for jam-band purists. Phil Lesh, Les Claypool and Widespread Panic have played there previously, and All Good’s refusal to book overlapping acts encourages attendees to catch every set. Scheduled performers for this year’s fest — scheduled for July 9 — include Ben Harper and Relentless7, Bob Weir & RatDog, Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, Dark Star Orchestra and more.

Regular tickets for All Good — a combination of music, countryside panoramas and good vibes — are $139. That’s a bargain in the costly festival world, although discerning attendees can shell out upward of $375 for deluxe packages.

On the Web: www.allgoodfestival.com

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