LAST TIME THEY were in town, someone suggested to David Buskin and Robin Batteau that they could be the Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of acoustic music.
Hmm. These two late-blooming, virtuoso sidemen-songwriters do share something with their more danceable (and defunct) Steely Dan kin: that singular ability to wrestle life's little details into vibrant, cogent, soul-stirring songs. There are several of these precious snapshots on their first, self-titled album.
But the similarities end here. Unlike Becker and Fagen -- who despised touring, and spent more time re-mixing than some of us do commuting -- Buskin and Batteau cast their most irresistible spells from a stage, not from your turntable. To be sure, both are accomplished composer-musicians who nowadays make good livings in New York's samurai jingle business. But Buskin and Batteau know well the importance of audience give-and-take to their stage act -- which is an appealing amalgam of melodic sensual pop, folky grit and killer wit.
So close your eyes and hope for a live album; this one may grow on you, meantime. It does not include Batteau's familiar, quasi- erotic "The Boy With the Violin" (which the pair performed with fearsome intensity two months ago at Lisner Auditorium). It does contain a similar, powerfully dense tale of innocence mugged, in "Outside."
Otherwise, the nine songs here are mostly introductions: to violinist-guitarist-mandolinist Batteau's way with love ("Heart Over Head") and slightly more savage pursuits ("The Robber"); to pianist-guitarist Buskin's lyrically, musically redeeming combat with loss ("All in All" and "Papa, You Were a Sailor"). And to the pair's underrepresented funny bone -- in the intentionally awful show tune "Death in Venice," and the tribute, a la the Everlys, to a favorite Mouseketeer named 'Annette."
DAVID BUSKIN & ROBIN BATTEAU -- "Buskin & Batteau" (Single Wing BB2010); appearing Saturday at the Birchmere.