Worry Dolls

Devils Wielding Scimitars

Still Sane/San Jacinto , 1990


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


You know how there’s a song in your head sometimes, and you recall a snippet of the melody or a lyric, but you can’t figure it out? You know how sometimes that lasts for 25 years, and then you post it on a Facebook alternative music group board, and someone gives you the answer you’ve been searching for within two hours?

No? Just me?

Well, that band was the awesomely-named Devils Wielding Scimitars, the album was their second release Worry Dolls, and the song in question was “Dayglo.” DWS is fairly obscure, coming to fruition in the beginning of the ’90s when female-fronted alt-rock was huge, and unfortunately they did little to distinguish themselves from the pack. It’s part of the jangly soup that includes 10,000 Maniacs, Tori Amos, Juliana Hatfield, the Sundays and Exene Cervenka (during her brief post-X solo period). After this album, the band didn’t record for another seven years before putting out one final release and then calling it quits.

Worry Dolls gained a small amount of traction on college rock radio, with “Dayglo” and “Twirl Around the World” getting airplay. I’m not sure about any others on the album, but they sure as hell deserved the attention, because this is a solid album. It’s an alt-power pop-rock gem, cruising by at 10 songs and 35 minutes, and there is definitely shared DNA with the artists mentioned above as well as a hefty dose of R.E.M. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Jangle guitar was of course a big thing once Peter Buck brought it back to the mainstream, but in Devils guitarist Scott Tyburski’s hands, it was wielded nicely, with “Blue Star Linoleum” being the most outstanding example. It’s prime alternative with a long guitar solo and it’s a pity that more people never heard it. “Twirl Around The World” is naggingly catchy, with Suzy Callahan’s clarion vocals sounding friendly and youthful, a far cry from the ironic detachment and angst that would quickly characterize alt-rock.

Released on vinyl initially, the second side of this album starts with the solid “Dayglo,” and there’s really no reason why the song should work so well—the chiming guitars, the little jam session after each chorus—but it sticks. “Fire Drill” trades off slow verses and hyper-strummed folk guitar; it’s not the first time you detect a Who influence in the songwriting. Brandon Finley’s drumming is also a standout here.

Callahan’s vocals are on point throughout; it’s a pity she never got a bigger audience during this time, because she could have held her own with Merchant, Amos, DiFranco, you name it. Even on the less-catchy songs (“Feed The Shark,” “She’s A Hemingway,” “Chapter’s End,”) she sings her heart out. The penultimate track, “Train A Calling,” shakes things up with a bluesy beat, some slap bass from Michael Baker and some grungy chords (remember, in 1990, this sound had not fully hit the mainstream yet, and it suggests a different direction the quartet could have taken). Tyburski then takes a long guitar journey for the back half of the song. It’s nothing like the rest of the album, but it fits in perfectly and probably sounded fantastic live.

The disc can be hard to find, but Spotify has it and it’s worth a spin. After 1997’s III, the members went their separate ways, and aside from some random studio work, it would seem they all got out of the music business altogether. To me, that makes DWS one of alt-rock’s good “what if” stories, because based on the flawed gem that is Worry Dolls, they deserved to be heard.

Rating: B

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