THE ALBUMS -- Rachel Sweet, "Fool Around," Stiff/Columbia (JC 36101) and "Protect the Innocent," Stiff/Columbia (NJC 36337).; THE SHOWS- At the Bayou, Monday at 8 and 11.
Heartache? Recklees romance? Messing around? Wild child Rachel Sweet's been there and back. And she'll bring it all into town with her Monday.
The gap between Sweet's jaded songs and her baby face makes for a Lolita come-on. This 17-year-old, who began in summer stock at six, has no pretensions to being the proper young innocent. Instead, she favors black leather jackets, faded jeans and parking-lot romances -- a luckless girl mistreated by men and boys.
Her brassy voice cuts through guitar and drum, at times sounding too adolescent for her knowing lyrics. Nearly nasal on some songs, scratchy on others and tinted by conspiratorial whispers, she sings of "Lovers' Lane" and "Tonight." Sweet may be best on speeding knock-down rockers, where she achieves a state of frenzy; in her jarring voice and I've-been-around attitude, she's a junior Janis Joplin.
Her debut album, last year's "Fool Around," was highlighted by a wrenching cover of Del Shannon's "I Go to Pieces," and included remakes of others from the oldies bin, "B-A-B-Y" and "Stay Awhile; unfortunately, the more recent material seemed feeble by comparison.
Still, "Fool Around" came across as a happy salute to young love, full of adolescent energy, seasoned with backup vocals by Lene Lovich (now taking off with her own LP) plus Sweet's own stunning sopriano. There's even a rockabilly ballad, Elvis Costello's "Stranger in the House," on which Sweet, a native of Akron, sounds as if she came the hills of Tennessee.
Her latest album, "Protect the Innocent," perpetuates her not-so-pure image. Words ring true on her "Tonight Ricky," admitting that "the innocense of youth was never mine." With her voice soft and seductive, backed by jazz piano and mellow bass, she coaxes a reluctant boyfriend to sneak out and find "a dream to last 'til midnight." The song has an earthy sensuality reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones.
Except for two other soulful ballads, the album move firmly in the direction of oldtime boogie rock -- or what the industry lately is calling "renaissance rock." One of the LP's best cuts is "Spellbound," a searing vocal display that's getting radio exposure for its one-word hookline. Suffering a hopeless crush on a "dangerous" guy, she wails to a slickly produced accompaniment: "Spellbound, caught in a trap/Like a little doll/ You stick pins in my heart/Spellbound, Spellbound." The exotic guitar interlude has an entrancing voodoo effect, with deep rumbling drum beats.
Throughout both albums, some distinctly unliberated themes are evident. On "Take Good Care of Me" she laments "You used to show me off to all your friends/Now you leave me on my own again." Is this part of the renaissance? The beat is certainly perfect for dancing the pony again.
Sure, these are a couple of swell rock albums, despite certain simple sentiments and obligatory electronic vibrations. And if Rachel can sneak out late for her concert on a weeknight, she's bound to captivate the Bayou audience with her sweet-and-sleazy brand of rock performance.