Sonya Kitchell and the Cynical Girls

At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, April 22.

Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks

As a scratchy recording of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cynical Girl”
emanated from an antiquated record player and signaled the start to
Sings Like Hell’s 19th season, there was an intrinsic beauty within
the lack of posturing that accompanied Amy Rigby and Marti Jones to
the stage. Free from pretense and imitation, the Cynical Girls
packaged their quirky and frank take on life with enthusiasm,
charm, and humor. Rather than being a true collaborative endeavor,
this duo is something of a musical tag team. For here are two
defiant singer/songwriters, each with her own wealth of experience
and each with her own decisive views and distinctive approach to
presenting them. And while these rock ’n’ roll “girls next door”
may have comically grasped for some personal common ground, they
share an inherent musical vision that belies what their distinctive
personalities might at first suggest.

The respective songwriting careers of Jones and Rigby have
delivered each to the top tier of the craft. Through
enthusiastically exploring the ups and downs of love and life,
their eccentric musical meanderings reflect a united perspective.
And in tackling subjects ranging from cheating hearts and
ex-husbands to dancing with Joey Ramone, the empathy and charm that
radiates from Jones’s compositions serve as a gorgeous counterpoint
to Rigby’s hysterical yet insightful wit.

While it was the fruits from years of combined experience that
colored the Cynical Girls’ idiosyncratic exploration, a seemingly
boundless enthusiasm characterized Sonya Kitchell’s performance. At
just 17 years of age, she might not have the world weariness of her
preceding colleagues, but Kitchell offered a powerful musical
presence that convincingly reflected such. This was no more
apparent than when she delivered a remarkable rendition of a new
composition titled “I Don’t Understand.”

Within that song, Kitchell tackled the emotionally charged topic
of the death penalty and presented a truly empathetic and moving
exploration of the politically and socially charged subject. And
while the song’s subject matter might present an edgy topic, its
forceful delivery wandered musical terrain where the singer seemed
most comfortable. In typically presenting a sound that freely
wanders folk and blues and jazz and Americana, it is when the tempo
quickens that Kitchell is most persuasive. From the husky delivery
of the rambling “Train,” to the dynamic range that accompanied the
infectious acoustic guitar and cello of “Words,” Kitchell’s vocals
encompassed myriad emotional textures. The evening might have
commenced with a muffled recording of a musical legend, but it
fittingly ended with the rich and bellowing tones of someone
quickly rising to make an equally striking impression.


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