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Romantic Southern rock from Middle Tennessee.

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How We Handle Our Midnights

Glossary

(Undertow)

Kings of Leon isn't the best "Southern rock" band from Middle Tennessee, just the most hyped, and here's the proof: On their concept-album-like third full-length, How We Handle Our Midnights, Murfreesboro's Glossary reminds me a bit of locals Lucero: They have a similar romantic spirit, though they aren't quite as dynamic. Glossary also reminds me a little of Dallas' Old 97's: Their music taps specifically into post-collegiate rootlessness, though their lyrics aren't quite as sharp.

A smart, solid Southern-rock band with some Memphis connections (current drummer J.D. Reager is a Memphian and former Flyer contributor, though he didn't play on this record), Glossary starts with a formula of fairly standard post-punk bar-band rock and spices it up with a lot of flourishes -- some Neil Young harmonica here, some extra percussion there, a woo-woo vocal hook or two. A nice feature is the male/female vocal harmonies. Kelly Smith's dulcet tones lends a nice contrast to lead singer Joey Kneiser's gravelly drawl.

On How We Handle Our Midnights, Glossary tackles a lot of familiar lyrical tropes, their worldview bounded by a geographic matrix of highway signs, city lights, and Southern skies, but they have enough verbal flair and emotional reach to tweak these potential clichÇs into something that feels real and alive.

I've never been to Murfreesboro, but the world of How We Handle Our Midnights sure feels like an actual place --a land of vagabond highways that connect small towns to cities, littered with newly minted adults working on their night moves and trying to figure out what's next. The album's opening line, "The Southern sky is like a halo burning bright," feels like an invitation to this world, and Glossary makes their probably standard restlessness signify, only occasionally coming across as too maudlin or self-conscious. ("I was a lonesome stray hitch-hiking down a heart-worn highway" --ugh.)

With songs like "At Midnight" ("Midnight is the only time we feel alive/We're older now and still drinking too much") and "The Rutherford County Line" ("We can talk about all the things we wish we had/Tell stories of who we were") coming on like anti-anthems, How We Handle Our Midnights is the sound of twentysomethings reckoning with reality but still seduced by those late-night drives. -- Chris Herrington

Grade: B+

Glossary will perform Sunday, February 8th, at the Hi-Tone CafÇ, with the High Strung and the Passport Again.

Coral Fang

The Distillers

(Sire)

It's sadly indicative of a particular strain of sexism in rock journalism that Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle has been so relentlessly compared to Courtney Love. Both favor smeared makeup and a brand of punk rock that is abrasive and accessible, but the more obvious comparison is to Love's former husband, Kurt Cobain. Like the Nirvana singer, Dalle can go from a whisper to a strain in a single breath; her song structures and minor-chord progressions recall Nirvana's Bleach; and her lyrics rely on images of self-mutilation and death tools (gallows, guillotines, razor blades, etc.) that fit thematically with Nirvana's In Utero.

But this comparison is just as limiting: Despite being married to old-school punk Tim Armstrong (of Rancid) and more recently hooked up with Queen of the Stone Age Josh Homme, Dalle is her own person, as Coral Fang ably proves. She has crammed her influences -- the men mentioned above, among others -- into a unique persona. At a time when punk is gradually losing its provocative edge to mall boys like Good Charlotte and old guards like Green Day, Dalle is one of the truest punks out there.

The album's overproduction keeps it from being as visceral and grinding as Dalle obviously intended, but there are strong songs here. "Die on a Rope" has a catchy call-and-response chorus, and "The Gallow Is God" is a spiraling minor-key dirge. Most impressive, Dalle isn't afraid to punch up her songs with catchy pop hooks: "Beat Your Heart Out" is one of the best expressions of female lust this side of Sleater-Kinney (take that, PJ Harvey!), and "Drain the Blood" is catchier than anything Cobain ever recorded.

On a few songs, Dalle's fearlessness clouds her sensibilities. "The Hunger" begins, surprisingly, with a power-ballad acoustic guitar, but the song descends into a morass of unstructured nasal whining and guitar crunch that is more annoying than bracing.

Still, all faults aside, Coral Fang reveals Dalle has the kind of punk integrity that can't be inherited from any musical influences. "I will always speak the truth," she sings on "Dismantle Me." "I will always bleed the truth." n

-- Stephen Deusner

Grade: A-

E-mail: herrington@memphisflyer.com

The Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys

(J Records)

Alicia Keys' appeal lies in her old-school approach to new soul music. She's learned her chops from Aretha and Gladys, but the woman who famously proclaimed Chopin her 'dawg' isn't afraid to learn some new tricks. On "So Simple," a stand-out track from her second album, the quaintly titled The Diary of Alicia Keys, she duets with a distorted, sped-up tape loop of her own voice singing the chorus. The effect is eerie, and the song sheds its influences to become something much more memorable than your typical radio-ready diva ballad: "So Simple" is a meditation on loss and regret that is every bit as baring and personal as the album title promises.

Equally risky is the first single, the sublimely erotic "You Don't Know My Name," in which producer Kanye West wraps Keys' dusky voice in candlelight and a descending piano glissando that sounds like a dress falling to the floor. But it's the lyrics that really heat up the song: "I can hardly wait for the first time/My imagination's running wild." The song's all the more captivating for being so understated, overshadowing more blatant come-ons like Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" and Kelis' ludicrous "Milkshake." When Keys stops mid-song to call up the man of her daydreams, you might think you've got a date with her.

It's when the balance between new and old teeters that Diary becomes something less than fabulous. "If I Was Your Woman/Walk on By" promises a Bacharach cover by way of Hot Buttered Soul, but it's just Isaac Hayes' insistent beat that gets used -- obviously enough to justify the double song title. Nothing says soulful like legal obligation.

Keys wants it both ways -- old and new school. And most of the time she has enough personality and imagination to get exactly what she wants. n --SD

Grade: B+

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