Jewish Chicks with Guitars

“It’s a whole phenomenon now, the way women are dominating music,” says influential New York DJ Vin Scelsa. Young Jewish feminists are seizing the opportunity to rock, doing it their way. All wield pens as well as guitars, writing their own songs, leading bands, and attracting male and female fans. Playing to different niches of the rock ‘n’ roll audience, they strike surprisingly similar chords of caring about family and friends, using images rich with social consciousness over a definite back beat.

Jill Sobule participated in the acclaimed summer Lilith Fair women’s concert tour that sold-out around North America. Her humor attracted attention first, via MTV notoriety for her novelty Fabio video “I Kissed A Girl,” and the satirical “Supermodel” from the movie “Clueless,” both on her eponymous major label debut. But the Coloradoan’s serious songs with their haunting sense of history have been largely ignored, such as the doomed Serbian/Croatian lovers in “The Couple on the Street.” In her latest CD, “Happy Town” on Atlantic Records, she evokes Anne Frank in “Attic” which starts “Would you have hidden me in your attic/That’s the question I’d like to know/ Would you have climbed up to serve me dinner,” accompanied by a klezmerish clarinet, as she builds up to a Jew’s ultimate test of love. She also takes on the Christian right, nostalgia, mean high school girls, Prozac, and her biological time clock, all with a sweet voice and sprightly melodies.

Patti Rothberg, from Scarsdale, NY, last year moved from busking in the subway to a hit on EMI; her album title (and the hidden track “Between the 1 and the 9” that’s not listed on the CD booklet) refer to NYC trains. Her knowing ode to insecurity, “Inside,” got frequent play on both alternative and soft rock stations and generated a colorful video popular with VH-1 that featured the album art of her multiple imaginative self-portraits. She sings about the anger and angst of first-time relationships.

Laurie Geltman’s music on “No Power Steering,” her co-produced and self-released debut CD, is an urban take on country rock. Almost 10 years of playing in the local indie rock and singer/songwriter scene after graduation from the Berklee School of Music and winning acclaim at the annual Boston Music Awards brought her the contacts to put together an intriguing back-up band of fiddle, Hammond organ, and pedal steel over drums and guitars. Her Storytelling vignettes travel from San Antonio to Wilkes Barre to Paris, moving elegies to the impact on a young generation of AIDS, black lung, runaway kids, and domestic violence. (CD available for $14 from: Rosebloom Productions, PO Box 347, Allston, MA 02134.)

Ann Klein plays old-fashioned kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll with a feminist guitar riff to sex (on top), drugs (anti), and guns (as metaphors). Klein fled Connecticut for NYC as a folk singer, discovered blues rock and plays scorching guitar on her co-produced, self-released debut CD “Driving You Insane.” Tracks like “I Wanna Do Ya” recall the classic rock sound of Melissa Etheridge, but are lyrically hotter, more pointed and empowered, with lines like “I want to be Moses and part the sea.” (CD available for $13 from: Lady slipper Music 800/634-6044, or from Ann Klein at 101 West 12th St., #4L, New York, NY 10011.)

The women of Sleater-Kinney, in Olympia, Washington, were inspired by two generations of rock foremothers— NYC’s ’70’s punk poet Patti Smith and the ’90’s riot grrrls of the Northwest— to beat out three chords on a guitar and to wail. “Dig Me Out” is Carrie Brownstein’s and Corin Tucker’s most sophisticated album lyrically and musically for three-minute raw pop gems, electrified by the impassioned rhythms of new drummer Janet Weiss. At a recent performance in NYC, though, Brownstein apologized for the “slow jam” of “Jenny” and drowned out its ethereal refrain “I am the girl/ I am the ghost/I am the wife” with a wall of guitar thrash. Their parents and grandparents are no longer their only fans, but they inspired the sardonically cute “Little Babies”: “Are you hungry did you eat before the show?” Named for the crossroads near their rehearsal studio, the trio are collecting kudos from alternative rock superstars REM, college radio, and critics’ polls, but are so far resisting the importuning of major labels to stay on local women-run labels Kill Rock Stars and Chainsaw. Brownstein intends to carry on the role model tradition, and has set down the gauntlet to all those who still think that girls hanging around music clubs want just to be groupies: “We’re not here to f–k the band. We are the band!”