CD Reviews


Blue Giant Blue Giant (Vanguard)

To create yet another alt-country album at this moment in time seems an exercise in sentimental futility. However, Blue Giant, a Portland supergroup (comprising members of Viva Voce, the Decemberists and others) adopts a more craft-oriented or writerly approach, eschewing heart-on-sleeve confessionals in exchange for extended metaphor and hard-bitten wordplay. In “Target Heart,” for instance, singer Kevin Robinson croons “I keep moving but you’re just too smart/Our love is frozen like an empty hearth” over a big, open six-string chords, slide guitar and saloon piano. And in the stomping, psychedelic, banjo-slapping hoedown of “Blue Sunshine,” his wife joins in to note the contrast between “your white dress/and my black eye.” Those seeking maudlin tear-in-your-beer ballads, à la Merle Haggard, should look elsewhere. Blue Giant is, generally speaking, geared toward those who prefer their country clever, like, say, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” ★★★★☆


Sun Kil Moon Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde)

Ex-Red House Painter Mark Kozelek travels to the beat of a different drum; can’t you tell by the way he runs from concept to concept, style to style? After an album of unfaithful, acoustic-based Modest Mouse covers, and the massive guitar calisthenics of 2008’s April, he returns with a 60-minute flamenco-influenced set of originals, just his melancholy voice and a nylon-string guitar. Kozelek has always been recognized as a quiet virtuoso, but Admiral cements his reputation, especially on the pyrotechnical track “Australian Winter,” which will turn most indie-rock ax-grinders green with envy. Jazz/classical fiends will probably turn their noses up at the lyrics and haunting vocal melodies, but anyone who enjoys great songwriting plus proficient technique will cherish this record. The title track alone is enough to give this critic chills after midnight. Another sadly beautiful masterpiece. ★★★★★


Alejandro Escovedo Street Songs of Love (Fantasy)

After nearly dying of hepatitis in 2003, acclaimed but unjustly obscure Texas singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo (often cited as alt-country’s godfather) seemed reborn, shedding his punk baggage (a tendency to rely on occasional album filler) in favor of a more mature, musically ambitious approach. The last six years have resulted in three classic albums: the experimental, John Cale-produced The Boxing Mirror in ’06, Real Animal in ’08 and now Street Songs, a savvy, rocked-up collection of gritty tunes featuring guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter. “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” has everything you want in a kiss-off—anthemic chorus (“Call it what you want/but this don’t feel like love to me!”), snarling guitar lines and pounding drums. There are still sonic surprises, like the bottle-clanking rhythms and sneaky synth-bass riff of the title track, a back-alley sketch of characters trapped in love’s consolation bracket. ★★★★☆

Suggested Next Read

Man of Many Masks


Man of Many Masks

By Jaq Greenspon

Walking into The Olive, a Mediterranean-style lounge on East Sunset Road, is like stepping through Alice’s mirror, and the Wonderground on the other side is more magical than Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole and equally overwhelming. On stage, a pair of belly dancers moves rhythmically, mimicking the twirling smoke of sweet flavored tobacco rising from dozens of hookah pipes.