Tuesday, October 7, 2008



The thoughtful, nuanced records of country-soul collective Lambchop don't exactly shout that the band hails from Nashville. But from the liner-note urgings to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame to its use of Music Row string players and arrangers, the telltale signs are there. Opening with singer Kurt Wagner crooning "oh-oh-oh" like a creaky answer to Patsy Cline's "boo-boo-boo-ing" Jordanaires, the group's shimmering new CD is no exception.

The album closes with a soft-shoe rendition of Don Williams's countrypolitan ballad "I Believe in You." If you don't listen closely, though, you're not likely to recognize the song, which sounds more like one of Harry Nilsson's moonbeam reveries than a record made in the home of country music.

Lambchop places much the same premium on subtlety, beauty and restraint as signature Nashville producers Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley once did. Over the course of 15 years and 10 studio albums, however, the indie stalwarts have diligently been forging their own version of the Nashville Sound, the more oblique the better.

Redolent of Jimmy Webb at his ruminative best, their new record's autumnal "Close Up and Personal" would have been perfect for Sinatra circa "September of My Years." Elsewhere, backed by rippling piano, Wagner wryly invokes dog dishes, Afro picks and compassion, sounding like nothing so much as the second coming of John Hartford.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE:"OH (Ohio)," "Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King Jr.," "I Believe in You"



Oasis has officially entered the "bathroom break" portion of its career. The new album from the Brit-pop icons is passable enough to serve its purpose: It gives the brothers Gallagher -- songwriter/guitarist Noel and singer Liam -- an excuse to stage a massive tour that will let them rake in the dough while they sprinkle some new tracks in between their early-career hits. You know, the songs people actually want to hear. The ones that are much better than anything on the plodding "Dig Out Your Soul," the band's seventh album.

Oasis will always be held to the standard of its sparkling first efforts, "Definitely Maybe" and "(What's the Story) Morning Glory," which almost deserve those high placements they receive in the British music press's seemingly semi-weekly rankings of the 100 Best British Albums Ever. On those records, picking out the singles was a tough task because every song was packed with a memorable chorus and equally soaring vocals and guitar solos.

On "Dig Out Your Soul" the opposite holds true; obvious singles are nowhere to be found. "The Shock of the Lightning" comes closest. Liam doesn't sneer all the way through this one, instead offering up a distinct vocal melody, while his brother creates an appealing wall of sound with his guitar. But the Gallaghers' penchant for anthems seems to be gone, and a slightly glammed-up, much heavier sound doesn't suit them. It's hardly terrible, and hey, it might even sound good while you're waiting in line for the loo after they've played "Don't Look Back in Anger."

-- David Malitz

DOWNLOAD THESE:"The Shock of the Lightning," "Bag It Up"


Rise Against

Rise Against is a Noam Chomsky band in a hot-topic world. The Chicago quartet is the latest neo-punk group to grapple with a very real question: How do you sing about politics without irritating half the electorate and putting the other half to sleep?

The answer: Make an album that both pummels and entertains. Named after a rabble-rousing socialist newspaper of the early 1900s, "Appeal to Reason" is the band's third disc for a major label, which pretty much sums up its dilemma.

But Rise Against seems to have absorbed the lessons of its punk-rock forebears, whose insistence on mirthless politicizing often doomed them to virtuous irrelevancy, at least as far as the mainstream was concerned. Its songs are about wars overseas and about domestic unrest, but about love, too, though the latter is mostly an afterthought, and the songs about romantic disappointment are virtually indistinguishable from the songs about government.

Few groups are as skilled at wrapping take-your-medicine lyrics in mercilessly catchy, shout-the-chorus punk-pop as Rise Against -- like Fall Out Boy if that band listened to a lot of ska and had a point. "Lights go out as we pass the torch again/In hope that it stays lit/Neutrality means that you don't really care," frontman Tim McIlrath sings on the best track, "Collapse (Post-Amerika)."

"Reason" isn't immune from painful bouts of obviousness: Spelling "America" with a "k" is one of those instant signifiers of deathly seriousness; so is any mention of the graves of innocents ("Kotov Syndrome") or the shallowness of pop culture ("Entertainment").

But "Reason" is more bracing and smart than clumsy. It's one of the few discs in memory to marry music and message while doing no damage to either.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Collapse (Post-Amerika)," "Audience of One"


Marnie Stern

Marnie Stern's wildly inventive, laboriously titled sophomore album should appeal to at least two groups: music journos who get paid by the word and America's growing legion of guitar solo fantasizers. With video games such as "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" still surging in popularity, Stern's virtuosic fretwork feels right on time, her hyperactive songscapes approaching an almost dreamlike maximalism. At times, she sounds like an iPod vomiting out 10 songs at once.

And while "This Is It . . . " might be a tad more coherent than Stern's dizzying 2007 debut "In Advance of the Broken Arm," her mission remains the same: Find that tiny sliver of common ground between metal, no-wave and kids' music and start shredding. She hits the mark with "Transformer," its rapid-fire guitar flurries and doe-eyed chant-alongs conjuring the image of Eddie Van Halen elbowing his way onto the set of "Kids Incorporated." Stern's best songs, however, slow things down. "The Crippled Jazzer" benefits from a sluggish, AC/DC-ish strut while "Steely" finds its hook in an airy breakdown ripe for Pete Townshend-style windmilling.

Many listeners will find this music incredibly annoying, but for adventurous ears, Stern's eccentricities deliver loopy rewards. "Holding back will be forgotten," she chants mantralike during "Clone Cycle," hinting at some utopian future where everything will be blurted out. Perhaps Stern's best shredding still lies ahead.

-- Chris Richards

DOWNLOAD THESE:"The Crippled Jazzer," "Steely"

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