Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Peter Gunn--all the hard-boiled dicks of detective fiction have been guys. But what if a gal were to strap on the shoulder holster, toss back a swig of gin, and enter the shamus game? Well, meet Heather Eatman.
Packing a vintage archtop guitar instead of a roscoe, Eatman leads her downtown New York combo Doll Hospital through eleven twisted tales that could do double duty as titles of '50s pulp novels: "Flashing Dolls," "Man In The Middle," "Paperdoll," and "Face Down" (whose chorus is like a Mickey Spillane sentence: "Face down in a cocktail lounge / full of wine, bullets, and bliss").
As with detective fiction, the language on this album is often the star. Eatman's tough, tongue-in-cheek poetry sparkles, frequently measuring up to what seems to be her main influences--Raymond Chandler, Tom Waits, and Rickie Lee Jones (who had her detective moments too).
Dig this vivid how-do from "Bluebird Ballroom": "We haven't met, I'm Miss Used / She's Miss Begotten and she's Miss Construed / We missed the boat, it left too soon / Three stranded spinsters, it's no honeymoon."
Or this dark greeting to a drowned spouse on "My Ex-Wife": "Night, night baby, may all your dreams come true / I dream of the indifference with which the fish relate to you."
Or this chorus from the catchy "Charlie Takes The Cake," a fairy tale about a biscuit-maker who bakes a wife for a lonely friend: "Patty cake patty cake, baker's man / Bake me a wife in a curvaceous pan / Leave her in 'til she's golden brown / Hot enough to burn the kitchen down."
Eatman's words are married to the ideal music--kitschy crime jazz. With Nick Mancini (there's a private richard moniker for you) on vibes, Jim Whitney on upright bass, and Andrew Burns on drums (that are recorded with the clatter of bullets firing from a heater), the songs sustain a noirish mood for the length of the record.
Doll Hospital may be only a side project for Heather Eatman, who, over the last decade, has released three fine solo records of alternative rock. But then again, she may have found her calling as the world's first guitar-toting gumshoe.