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Short Cuts

One of modern blues' best bets bring their Simple Truths to the Center for Southern Folklore.

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Simple Truths

The Holmes Brothers

(Alligator Records)

The Holmes Brothers have always been a formidable force on the roots/blues circuit, but in the hands of producer Craig Street (Joe Henry, Cassandra Wilson), they prove unstoppable. Simple Truths lives up to its name, beginning with the original juke-joint blues "Run Myself Out of Town." Guitarist/vocalist Wendell Holmes cranks out a mean gutbucket groove, while bassist/vocalist Sherman Holmes anchors the bottom alongside drummer/vocalist Popsy Dixon. The visceral, gumbo-like sound belies the trio's stripped-down approach as they effortlessly shift gears for the breezily upbeat "Shine."

The most enlightening moments on Simple Truths, however, come courtesy of its unconventional covers: Bruce Channel's Texas rave-up "Hey Baby," Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You," Gillian Welch's "Everything Is Free," Willie Nelson's "Opportunity to Cry," Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and Bob Marley's "Concrete Jungle." All are lovingly reworked here, musically massaged into thoroughly modern creations. On Williams' country lament and Marley's Rasta hymn, tempos are changed and entire choruses are transformed, but it's done with utmost respect. And when guest musicians Chris Bruce and David Piltch join the mix, the results are ethereal. "Everything Is Free," a gentle unraveling of Welch's moody anthem, is easily the best song here. The Holmes Brothers' ancient, honeyed voices lace the bitter lyrics with sweetness, so you don't realize that the words are arsenic until it's too late. It's a dark, melodious communion -- one that you'll want to partake of again and again. -- Andria Lisle

Grade: A-

The Holmes Brothers perform at the Center for Southern Folklore on Saturday, March 20th.

Lovers

The Sleepy Jackson

(Source/Astralwerks)

On their debut album, Lovers, Australia's Sleepy Jackson -- which consists of pop mastermind Luke Steele and a rotating line-up of whoever will bow to his will -- hit on just about every trend in indie rock. "Vampire Racecourse" has a churning garage-rock feel, while "Good Dancers" owes its shimmery otherworldliness to the Flaming Lips. "Rain Falls for Wind" is the kind of fluid neo-new wave that Interpol and the Stills would kill for. The rest of the album runs the gamut from Beatles-esque pop ("Acid in My Heart") to the REM jangle of "Come to This" to the alt-country dirge of "Miniskirt."

Like Beck, who brought his obscurantist record collection to alternative rock, Steele is an omnivorous songwriter: He has no qualms about borrowing whatever style or instrument fits the mood of his lyrics. But Lovers feels cohesive, the work not of a musical daredevil, leaping genres in a single bound, but a rock enthusiast with a distinct personality. Steele has a penchant for na-na-na choruses and George Harrison guitar lines, and personal elements like these, along with strong, image-heavy lyrics, link all the songs intrinsically.

Lovers is not only a diverse album full of experiments and gambits, it is one fully confident in its ability to speak so many different tongues. --Stephen Deusner

Grade: A-

The Sleepy Jackson perform Tuesday, March 23rd, at Newby's, with On the Speakers and Robbers on High Street.

Anatomy Is Destiny

Exhumed

(Relapse Records)

To know Exhumed, you must first understand Carcass. Though they share no members and are divided by an ocean and at least a decade, these bands are still irrefutably linked.

During the late-'80s/early-'90s peak of death-metal and grindcore, England's Carcass were heavy-hitting outsiders that scrapped the Satan/occult aesthetics for vile though medically correct (they were vegetarian pre-meds) examinations of human anatomy, forensic science, and surgery-gone-wrong. Along with the far more pedestrian, stupid, and murder-obsessed Cannibal Corpse, Carcass created the mini-genre of "gore metal" (also the name of Exhumed's 1998 debut album).

Unlike Cannibal Corpse, Exhumed add a healthy taste of dark humor and tongue-in-cheek nonsense to deeply graphic tales of splatter, and, like late-period Carcass, these Bay Area boys have begun to sonically expand beyond their blurry beginnings to embrace melody and traditional thrash-metal ideas. There are heavy breakdowns into straight grooves in Exhumed's music and, if you wait around, some toe-tapping Iron Maiden-by-way-of-Slayer dual-guitar crescendos. Also adding to this professional air is the choice of producer: Neil Kernon, who has twiddled the knobs for Queensryche, Dokken, and Judas Priest.

Anatomy Is Destiny occasionally approaches the eclectic extremity of labelmates Mastodon, but this is still death metal and this particular type of death metal will effectively scare the living shit out of your older relatives. Vocals use the old genre trick of a more tuneful high-register gargoyle voice competing with a slow and low sub-human gurgling "vomit tone."

Exhumed put on a better than average show -- they don't just stand in front of a smoke machine and twirl their locks -- helped along by bassist Bud Burke's trademark trick of regurgitating red food coloring into the severed head of a mannequin. Exhumed are a band that take their art seriously enough to make an impact but not so seriously that good clever fun is lost in the attack. -- Andrew Earles

Grade: B

Exhumed perform Thursday, March 18th, at the Caravan.

Talkie Walkie

Air

(Source/Astralwerks)

Air's debut album, Moon Safari, made canned strings and programmed drumbeats seem sophisticated and Continental, but it also threatened to pigeonhole the duo with the novelty label "French electronica." So on the follow-up, 10,000 Hz. Legend, Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin tinkered with that sound, adding more vocals, more programmed drums, more Beck, and more punchlines about "wonder milky bitch[es]" and smoking robots. It was a mess -- ambitious but flat, cold, and ridiculous.

On the new Talkie Walkie, Air call "do over" and act as if Legend never happened. The album still feels like a significant departure from Moon Safari, but the songs hold up much better than their predecessors, with more intriguing ideas and a more confident and stylized execution. With its march tempo, "Alpha Beta Gaga" uses a whistled melody and a plucked banjo to sublime, otherworldly effect, and "Alone in Kyoto" (from the Lost in Translation soundtrack) creates a strikingly pensive atmosphere that lives up to its title without resorting to obvious Japanese instrumentation.

Flirting with the classic French clichÇ, the album's overriding preoccupation, however, is sex; almost every song seems to contain an over-the-top or out-of-this-world come-on. "Biological," for example, is a steamy celebration of "genetic love" worthy of Serge Gainsbourg at his randiest: "Let's fuse our cells to be as one tonight/A part of me would like to travel in your veins I need your DNA." That the vocals are so heavily programmed and mechanized belies a sly irony that's much subtler than anything the band has tried before.

Ultimately, Talkie Walkie manages the considerable feat of finally living up to the ambitions of its creators and rescuing Air's straying career from '90s fad obscurity. --SD

Grade: B+

Listening Log

We Shall All Be Healed -- The Mountain Goats (4AD/Beggars): As prolific, home-taping, indie-rock cult figures go, the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle boasts a lot higher batting average than, say, Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard, who has a higher subcultural Q rating. Darnielle's latest collection of sneaky-funny, epiphany-laden, highly literate songcraft has a fuller sound than is his norm, but the songs are harder to pin down than on his previous album, 2002's unsparing end-of-a-marriage song-cycle Tallahassee. But Darnielle still writes the most jaw-dropping similes to ever grace the pop-song form ("I can remember when we were in high school/Our dreams were like fugitive warlords/Plotting triumphant returns to the city/Keeping Tec-9s tucked under the floorboards"), and he still knows that, as virtuosic as his wordplay can be, it's often the simple stuff that hits hardest ("This song is for the people/Who tell their families that they're sorry/For things they can't and won't feel sorry for"). ("Home Again Garden Grove," "Palmcorder Yajna," "Cotton")

Grade: A-

No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 1 --Various Artists (Dualtone): This genre-sampler/promotional item defines alt-country in a manner consistent with the magazine it represents: a little dull but not without merits. I could go for more laughs and more insurgency, though at least it gets the gender-balance right. I'd rather listen to the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn (better beats and better riffs when not indulging in soppy ballads) than most of the folkie marginalia collected here, but I'd also rather listen to more irreverent alt-country types like the Drive-By Truckers, Waco Brothers, and Freakwater. Gets bonus points for attempting to rescue the great "Parallel Bars" from obscurity, though I'd imagine that anyone who buys this will already own a few Robbie Fulks records. ("Parallel Bars" --Robbie Fulks & Kelly Willis; "Thrice All-American" -- Neko Case & Her Boyfriends; "Dam" --Kasey Chambers; "No Depression in Heaven" --The Carter Family)

Grade: B

Franz Ferdinand -- Franz Ferdinand (Domino): Latest Brit-pop hype is more listenable than most Brit-pop hypes. Art-rock that combines arch vocals with dance rhythms is a tradition that runs from David Bowie/Roxy Music through the Talking Heads to the Rapture. Franz Ferdinand isn't as smart as Bowie/Roxy, as physical as the Rapture, or as anything as the Talking Heads, but if you need that fix, they'll get the job done in a pinch. ("Take Me Out," "This Fire," "Come on Home") --Chris Herrington

Grade: B+

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