STAND STILL, LOOK PRETTY
It would've been easy for Michelle Branch to coast along in her pop career after two platinum albums, numerous hit singles and a Grammy for her 2002 collaboration with Carlos Santana. Instead she chose to pursue a country project called the Wreckers with longtime friend and backup singer Jessica Harp. The result, "Stand Still, Look Pretty," is a charmingly catchy debut that joins Branch's pop sensibilities with traditional country music elements: a warm twang and rich harmonies.
While Branch is the pair's better known musician, this is an equally collaborative project: Branch and Harp wrote most of the album together and they share vocal duties. Their voices are so complementary that it is nearly impossible to tell them apart. Their blended harmony on "My, Oh My" magnifies the song's boot-stompin' sass, while their exaggerated drawl on "Crazy People" emphasizes the humor in the lyrics ("Only crazy people fall in love with me").
"Stand Still" features a few solo compositions as well: Harp's bittersweet "Tennessee" captures the wistfulness of breakup regret, while Branch's "Rain" channels the same passionate aggression as her single "Are You Happy Now?" But Branch and Harp's strength is their partnership: The dejection in the album's mellow title track recalls Kasey Chambers's dark songwriting, while their emotion-drenched harmonies in "The Good Kind" intensify the song's heartbreak.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Tennessee," "Stand Still, Look Pretty," "Leave the Pieces."
-- Catherine P. Lewis
Mission of Burma
Rock band reunions are convened for a variety of reasons, music often being among the last. But on its second album since returning from a two-decade hiatus brought on by guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus, Mission of Burma proves that art can still triumph over mere commerce.
Not that a cash grab was a serious option. During its first incarnation, the Boston avant-punk outfit released only one album, a couple of singles and an EP, all of which sold modestly. But its reputation grew as years passed and its songs were covered by R.E.M. and Moby, among others.
And now, as early '80s nostalgia has overtaken younger bands such as Interpol and Bloc Party, the time is right for Mission of Burma to claim its spot in the post-punk pantheon, even though its sound remains too outre and abrasive for the modern-rock mainstream.
Like 2004's "OnoffOn," "The Obliterati" rages with authority. Miller and the other principals, bassist Clint Conley and drummer Peter Prescott -- a fourth member, Bob Weston, performed tape manipulations and engineered the album -- all contribute songs whose sound is aptly described by the title of one track, "Careening With Conviction."
Honest-to-goodness pop hooks emerge on the pounding opener, "2wice," but more common are the purposeful freakouts of "Let Yourself Go" and "The Mute Speaks Out" and the fierce punk passion of "Man in Decline" and "Period." Elsewhere, "Donna Sumeria" offers a twisted tribute to a similarly named disco diva, while "Nancy Reagan's Head" suggests the band may have a few scores to settle from decades past. Other than that, "The Obliterati" is anything but an exercise in nostalgia.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "2wice," "13"
-- Daniel Durchholz
Mission of Burma is scheduled to perform at the Black Cat on July 15 .