The name Rainbow Girls is misleading.
With a name like that, and an origin story that has a group of women retreating to Joshua Tree to form their band, it is easy to assume this troupe is an easy-going, mandolin-plucking, sundress-twirling, hippie-dippie folk lovefest. Their list of appearances dotting northern California seems to underscore those assumptions.
But, while there may be a grain or two of truth germinating in those ideas—especially in their more stripped down songs, the ones built on foot stomping, acoustic guitars, and richly layered harmonization—the Rainbow Girls are something distinctly unique and wildly more varied than a typical bluegrass band. Their sound and songs are distinctly fun and forward, with an almost dizzying carnival of talent; voices that occasionally sound more like Carolina Chocolate Drops than sweet-natured California coast girls; other times belting into jazzy riffs, and then shifting gears to a Country & Western lament.
In the same manner as Heart's "Barracuda," which dresses down a chauvinistic record executive, some of the Rainbow Girls' lyrics are even biting and venomous; like, in their song "She-Bop Nation," they gleefully chastise a large-egoed male musician. And, like the far-under-recognized '60s Shangri-Las, the Rainbow Girls' sweet-natured harmonized voices can easily glaze over the nastier and more serious themes.
But their voices are only the surface to this energizing—and, ultimately, charming and mesmerizing—band. Self-described as stomp-folk, they reach far beyond that genre—or, at least stretch the spectrum of what is expected from that genre by heaping in a closet full of instruments, like ukuleles and kazoos, on some songs, and accordions and funky, boozy organ riffs here and there. More so, even within the typical lineup of instruments, the Rainbow Girls display a rueful muscle of talent, like their drummer who sometimes clangs on the cymbals to give a intoxicating gypsy klesmer ambiance, but on other songs mercilessly stomps the bass drum to provide a far more stern backbeat than most bluegrass bands dare to venture, sometimes even wandering into surf music.
With a self-released album in 2013 and, more recently, a collection of polished songs on their second album, recorded in a San Francisco studio, the band only seems to be expanding their musical talent, getting funkier and more experimental.
Highly recommended. Just don't expect rainbows and unicorns.
Pickin' & Paddlin'
Rainbow Girls with Tone Red and Sweet Harlots
5 pm, Wednesday, August 26
Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, 805 SW Industrial Way
$10 (children under 12 free)