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CROOKED FINGERS "Dignity and Shame" Merge LIZ DURRETT "Husk" Warm

Friday, March 18, 2005; Page WE08

CROOKED FINGERS "Dignity and Shame"Merge LIZ DURRETT "Husk"Warm

"Islero," the hushed instrumental that opens "Dignity and Shame," seems to foretell another melancholy outing for Crooked Fingers, the musical alias of onetime Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann. But that harbinger turns out to be only half right. While the album's sentiments are no cheerier than those of Bachmann's previous work, the music is fuller and more upbeat.

"You've got to carry your heart like a torch in the night," instructs the title track, and many of these songs are unexpectedly luminous.

Bachmann has a frayed baritone and generally writes lyrics to match it.

Such roots-rockers as "Weary Arms" and the Springsteen-like "Twilight Creeps" depict a world in which love is the only solace, and often an inadequate one. Yet the latter song is one of several here that's sweetened by a female voice, usually Lara Meyerratken's. (Velocity Girl's Sarah Shannon is also heard, along with such other mood-altering accents as Jason Parker's Tijuana-brass trumpet and a few Lou Reed-ish guitar outbursts.) Bachmann is unusually sanguine all by himself on a few of these songs. Add Meyerratken's vocals, and such tunes as "Call to Love" and "Coldways" soar above their composer's forlorn vision.

Liz Durrett's "Husk" is as bleak as "Dignity and Shame" and considerably less outgoing to boot. Produced in the mid-'90s by Vic Chestnutt, the then-teenage singer-songwriter's uncle, these gauzy ballads sound like trip-hop without the hop. With her fragile vocals set in spare, echoey arrangements, Durrett sings about such morbid adolescent concerns as ghosts, plagues and imprisonment. "Captive" sounds like a serial-killer scenario, but isn't: "I am a captive / To myself /To no one else," she explains. The album's wispy, brooding title song is the highlight, although it might have more impact if the eight other songs didn't all hail from the same emotional neighborhood. Within its narrow range, however, "Husk" is often starkly lovely.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Thursday at the Black Cat with Minus Story. • To hear a free Sound Bite from Crooked Fingers, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8102; to hear Liz Durrett, press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

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