"The Great Battle"

New West


"When the Telephone Rings"


With its Byrdsian intro, "Twilight" sounds like the sort of classic folk-rock that's forever being revived, especially in Britain. Anyone who's heard Jon Dee Graham sing, however, knows that the mood can't last. Thirty seconds into the song, which opens the Austin musician's new "The Great Battle," Graham's gruff voice enters, crashing the airborne riffs down to earth. The moment is a bit deflating, but that suits the song's kicker: "Do you believe we were conceived in sin? Well, I do."

A 25-year Texas music veteran, Graham came to prominence in the 1980s with the True Believers, the cowpunk band fronted by Alejandro Escovedo. Yet he resisted recording solo till the late '90s, and his reluctance may not merely be a matter of false modesty. Graham is an effective performer and songwriter, but not a particularly distinctive one. "The Great Battle" is a well-crafted collection of mostly mid-tempo and generally disconsolate tunes, sensitively produced by Charlie Sexton, who also adds his guitar to the mix.

Still, most of these songs will appeal only to those with a special taste for world-weary troubadours whose idea of justifying their plight is "I never meant to live this long."

The Silos were alt-country before alt-country was, well, called that. Yet Walter Salas-Humara, the band's only surviving original member, is hardly a backwoods sort of guy. Born in Cuba, the singer-guitarist co-founded the band 20 years ago in Florida, then refined its style in New York. So it's no great surprise that "The Only Love," which opens "When the Telephone Rings," is an urbane rocker. The spiraling tune sounds a bit like Television, as well it should: It's one of two songs on the album that features Richard Lloyd's guitar.

Officially, the Silos are now a trio, but most of these songs encompass additional musicians, including the group's former full-time violinist. Mary Rowell's fiddle and Drew Glackin's lap steel guitar add a plaintive aspect to such laments as "The First Move" and the title track. Overall, though, the album takes an agreeably defiant attitude toward melancholy. Romping through such up-tempo numbers as "Don't Wanna Know," the band aggressively rejects both bad vibes and stale categories.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Friday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Jon Dee Graham, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8106; to hear the Silos, press 8107. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)