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Learning from the past

Rasputina's cello-rific rock takes a new turn by focusing on the current

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To make a musical, just add cello.
  • To make a musical, just add cello.

Rasputina's Melora Creager provides a good twist to a popular old adage: You can take the rock cellist out of the corset, but you can't take the obsession with oddball history out of the rock cellist.

Since 1992, Rasputina has functioned as an all-girl, all-cello duo-sometimes-trio, kicking out the jams over Victorian and Civil War-era topics, all while donning corsetry. Singer and first-chair cellist Creager began the group in Brooklyn as a cello club of sorts, sometimes assembling up to nine ladies at a time.

"I didn't know what I was doing," she says, "but I wanted a whole mess of ladies playing cellos."

The group eventually pared down to two or three cellists at a time, plus a touring drummer.

But as any good rock group should, Rasputina has been evolving: For the past three albums, drummer Jonathon TeBeest has been accepted as "one of the girls," and rigid corsets are no longer de rigueur.

"Well, singing my best is more important than my "look,'" Creager says. "And I have to admit I can't sing as well with a corset."

The evolution has extended to their music as well. With the recent addition of latest second-chair Sarah Bowman, Rasputina's sixth full-length, Oh Perilous World, has leapt into an intricate fictional world filled with dashing heroism, lovelorn ladies and blimp warfare.

Yep, it's a musical.

And though this one hasn't yet been staged, Creager wrote the album after studying classic American musicals such as My Fair Lady and The Music Man.

"The appeal in those [shows] is, you don't have to see the show to get the storyline," she says. "You just listen to the lyrics."

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Her lyrics tell the love story of two people on opposite sides of a war in the Pacific Ocean, started by a queen meant to represent President George W. Bush.

So it's no surprise that, in preparing for this album, Creager also studied how the news media work. In fact, many songs on Oh Perilous World are written in a newscast fashion.

"While reading about all of these current events, it occurred to me [that] a huge amount of bizarre, inexplicable things were going on," she says. "Usually I go through books of things that grab me from the past, but, here, it was all right here."

"Choose Me for Champion," one of the album's standout tracks, rips through a propagandist speech before settling into a sweeping chorus worthy of Freddie Mercury. What's more, the lyrics are based on and often taken verbatim from a speech by Osama bin Laden.

"I was drawn to the Arabic phrasing, to be honest," Creager says. "It's really poetic at times. Plus, he's typecast as a villainous character, but I doubt many people have really read what he's said."

Creager says the experience of writing something as experimental as Oh Perilous World has made her far more confident as a songwriter.

"Even though I've never had a "hit,' it was still driven into me by managers and labels as always the goal: "Must get on the radio, have a hit, have a chorus,'" she says. "Studying the musicals, I had an epiphany: I didn't have to write that way."

scene@csindy.com

Rasputina

Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver

Thursday, July 12, 8:30 p.m.

Tickets: $15, 16-plus; visit ticketmaster.com.

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