Reese McHenry first approached Spider Bags’ Dan McGee about making music together more than half a decade ago. McHenry, then, was the driving force behind garage-country outfit The Dirty Little Heaters, and she and McGee only casually knew each other. So when McHenry told McGee that she wanted to make a great record before she died, McGee shrugged it off as a casual remark, one every musician makes a million times in their lifetime.
Not so for McHenry: In 2009, she started a six-year series of a half-dozen surgeries to correct atrial fibrillation and mitigate congestive heart failure; the same year she approached McGee, doctors cut open McHenry’s heart and installed a pacemaker. It ensured that she would live, but there were no guarantees she’d ever play music again. Happily, she made a comeback in 2015 with her project The Second Wife, and she’s remained an active force in local music since then. Her newest effort is a collaboration with Spider Bags, an LP titled Bad Girl that comes out July 14.
Bad Girl is a garage-rock take on the classic singer’s record; McHenry is front and center, with Spider Bags as her backing band. The title track—a gender-swapped cover of Lee Moses’s deep soul classic—is proudly bellicose, like the hell McHenry raised with The Dirty Little Heaters. Absent context, it’s exactly the kind of song a McHenry-Spider Bags collaboration would produce, rambunctious and shot through with surging momentum.
But McHenry’s tumbledown performance gives the song a perfect gravity, a cathartic casting-off of the strokes and surgeries that bedeviled her for so many years. Spider Bags temper their own fire, deploying their own charms but ceding the spotlight to McHenry. And McHenry—whose voice effortlessly conveys complex emotion—shines. In the verses, Moses’ words pour out in rushing torrents, as though the words themselves were desperate to get out.
(Disclosure: Steve Oliva, who plays bass in Spider Bags, is also the graphic and editorial designer at the INDY.)