High School Sweethearts - Heels 'n' Wheels - New LP
If you are in the checkout line, check out this one. This one is one you wanna hear if you love that pop-garage sound, chock full of bubblegum-rock fun, filled with Farfisa and electric-guitar licks, two-girl harmonies and catchy lyrics, but staying focused on the rhythm, focused like a convertible racing down the wrong lane on a back road, bad girls just having fun, waving beach towels and flipping birds, blood stains on their ripped shirts and grins on their faces, racing away to the Tasty Freeze drivein, only slowing down for a serving of sad on "Not Coming Back," moving between songs like a quick swerve into a new lane on the same highway. -- winch
“Just take those old records off the shelf--- or better yet, don't. The High School Sweethearts go back to the future on their second album. The New Jersey group will draw some comparisons to The Donnas, but this coed combo is far less metal- and arena-influenced than those California girls. Built on guitars, bass, drums, and Farfisa (yeah!), the Sweethearts' songs employ abundant melodic gifts and just the right mix of mischief and sincerity on songs like ‘Cherry Hi-Way’ and ‘Downtown Girl.’ Hey, those Donnas are entertaining and all, but in some ways their act is a bit of a caricature; this is more convincing. The Feelies’ Dave Weckerman drums on a few tracks. Absolutely fabulous.” - Mike Cimicata, Yeah Yeah Yeah (No. 22)
Cynthia Santiglia (Vocals)
John Steel (Guitar)
Paige Sixteen (Farfisa, backing vocals)
Bill Gill (Guitar)
Jason Pavia (Bass)
Dave Weckerman (Drums)
Produced by the High School Sweethearts and Jim Foster
Recorded at Homebrew Studio in Belleville, NJ by Kevin Lacatena
Mastered by Dino DiStefano
Design by Hawke Design
Popmatters: "We might as well get it out in the open now: with their sophomore LP, Heels 'n' Wheels, the New Jersey-based High School Sweethearts are going to draw comparisons to the reigning queens of girl garage, the Donnas. And it's true, both bands exude a coy sexuality, crafting songs where they alternately chase after boys and chase them away, gluing them (the songs, not the boys) together with crunchy guitar hooks and calling it "bubblegum garage" (at least that's what I call it).
"But by no means are the HSS carbon copies of the Donnas. For starters, they're co-ed: singer Cynthia Santiglia, guitarist John Steele, Farfisa player (Farfisist?) Paige Sixteen, guitarist Bill Gill, bassist Jason Pavia, and drummer Dave Weckerman make up the band. And while the all-girl Donnas vs. boys 'n' girls HSS difference isn't reflected in any of Heels 'n' Wheels' tunes, the discerning listener can hear in the High School Sweethearts a different musical approach from that of the Donnas. While the Donnas have always had an unabashed Kiss/arena rock jones, the HSS are more interested in pure pop. After opening with a bit of a curveball in the richly-layered (guitar, Farfisa, honeyed backing vocals from Jen Brown) and darker-than-you'd-expect-from-a-band-called-the-High-School-Sweethearts "Downtown Girl" (it's an obscure reference, but the tunes calls to mind Chris Stamey's "McCauley Street (Let's Go Downtown)", as both detail the lives of young, independent New York City ladies), the HSS dive headlong into poppy garage with "Afterschool Special". Santiglia's narrator is one of those troublemaking girls at school: "Some kids are doing homework / I'm going out instead". Steele's down 'n' dirty guitar solo confirms that this girl is not one to cross.
"From there, it's more of the same, in the best possible sense of the phrase: to wit, the stomping "Sweethearts Theme" and album highlight "Cherry Hi-Way" -- which proves that Santiglia's sweet/sexy/naïve/knowing (yes, all at once) voice was made to sing lyrics like "Yesterday I spent the whole damn night just thinking of you!" That sound you hear is my heart fluttering. The title track is a bit more scuffed up than the other tracks, with the biting kiss-off "I'm outta here on heels 'n' wheels!"; they sound like fellow bratty garagestresses Les Hell on Heels.
"And there's more to the band than just riffs, though there's plenty of those. "The Truth About Ruth" is a thoughtful character study about a girl who married the wrong guy (and too young, to boot), "hid behind a curtain of beautiful black hair" and "had a boy on the side / From the other side of the tracks". Of course, the tune rocks, but it shines a light on the band's lyrical ability.
"My one gripe (well, two: the album cover leaves a lot to be desired) is that the album is too long: at 52 minutes over 15 tracks, it's a case of too much of a good thing. One reporter's opinion: garage albums should be 40 minutes long, tops. To that end, skip the slow "Never Coming Back" (or at least the album-closing acoustic reprise) and the psychedelic Bowie cover "Moonage Daydream". They're solid songs, especially the latter, and they show the band is capable of operating in more than one gear, but they kill some of the album's hard-earned, hard-charging momentum.
"Minor nitpicking aside, the High School Sweethearts have turned in a gem of an album with Heels 'n' Wheels. As someone whose job it is to wonder aloud about such things, I feared for the relevance of girl garage after last year's enjoyable, but not really garage, releases from Sahara Hotnights and the Donnas; albums like Heels 'n' Wheels help me sleep better at night, knowing that there are keepers of the girl garage rock flame going strong."