Sweet and lowdown

The Andrews Sisters never sang about getting a Brazilian wax.

Sure, they urged us to not sit under the apple tree with anyone else but them, and they put the boogie-woogie to that cute bugle boy from Company C. Yet the wartime sibling warblers never once mentioned that saucy South American salon technique — where the wax is applied, y’know, down there, while you’re propped on your back with your proverbial stuffings hanging out, as the hopefully trained professional rips off the, um …well, the …

“The whole thing,” explains a cackling Rhett Thurman, one-third of Menage, during a recent practice in fellow band member Mary Ellen Bush’s basement.

“The whole enchilada,” chimes in either Mary Ellen or Sarah McDonald, I can’t say for sure. Understand that I am a just a trifle flummoxed at this point, being in the presence of three attractive women I barely know who are yukking it up big time over the ultimate bikini wax.

This particular band practice — part of Menage’s prep for its Valentine’s Day CD release show at Westville Pub — is thicker than usual with the three friends’ charming joie de vivre. The session begins with their cooking up a spirited jingle to promote their buddy Tara’s West Asheville salon, Beauty Parade:

“She does your nails, massage your back, and a facial, too

Cut and color, perm, it looks good on you

She’s just around the corner, did you know?

And if you’re afraid to ask, she does the Brazilian wax!”

Rhett sings the last line solo, coyly putting a hand to her mouth, creating a hint of blushing false modesty. Then the three lock in harmony on the closer, “Beauty Puh-uh-raaaaaade!”

They’re aiming, says Rhett, for “a 1930s-’40s-radio-jingle thing — that whole Andrews Sisters thing.”

I close my eyes as they practice (and practice and practice). And it’s true: That wholesome, wartime sibling harmony is right there, leaving me with a startling mental picture of those three Andrews gals, struttin’ in thongs along a hot slice of Rio sand. Great God.

The Menage women approach this silly jingle the same way they do any serious song, be it band original or cover. They try out different notes, one singer spiraling higher here, another dipping lower there. They prompt each other and suggest changes, with Rhett’s music-theory background always at work on finessing the vocal mix.

“She automatically hears harmony,” Sarah notes.

“She’s the harmony genius,” adds Mary Ellen.

Rhett sees it in less-glowing terms. “It can be a little annoying,” she reveals.

During practice, Mary Ellen’s dog, Batch, occasionally chimes in. Sort of. Rarely does he howl a copacetic note, though Rhett doesn’t offer any tips on improvement. Eventually, Batch is booted out the door.

Leave it to a boisterous boy to screw up a perfect harmony.

One thing Menage is definitely about, its three members repeatedly declare, is showing the public three strong women — doin’ it, if you will, for themselves.

Name dropping

Say the word “menage,” and our puritan-meets-porn culture rushes to complete the evocative French phrase. And that’s actually how the trio began — as Menage a Trois.

The original name, however, quickly became problematic. One venue found it too risque, while some crowds just fixated on it: Put a few drunk yahoos in a room with three pretty women calling themselves that, and, well … where’s the booty show, baby?

Shortening to just Menage was the easy solution, keeping the sense of fun and the strong-woman vibe intact, the singers say.

All three are fairly recent transplants to Asheville: Mary Ellen, 24, hails from Macon, Ga., by way of Alabama. Sarah, 25, originally from Frederick, Md., arrived here from New York City. Rhett, 28, a native of Charleston, S.C., last lived in New Mexico.

They each confess to being shocked at having found one another the band was, it turns out, an accident.

They first met at Westville Pub, where all have been employed since the restaurant/bar opened in April 2002.

The group itself blossomed back when they were first becoming friends, and Mary Ellen held a sleepover. After a couple of bottles of wine that night, the trio started harmonizing on “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” from O Brother, Where Art Thou? The uncanny melange of their own voices threw them all for a loop.

“We were just tickled,” Sarah reveals. “We were just like: ‘Oh, my God!'”

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