...and the Family Telephone (Suicide Squeeze)
It's hard to believe Baltimore could produce a band that sounds this joyful. Like the anti-Wire, these 14 bouncy songs make the most of delicate arrangements and sunny-side-of-the-street melodies, as singer Michael Nau sprinkles opaque references to nature, magic, and the Bible throughout his darkly whimsical, oddly appealing tunes. Nau's nasal voice comes across as more vulnerable than tender, which gives the material an edge it wouldn't otherwise possess. Smartly, the band ushers trombone, organ, and xylophone into an uncluttered mix of guitar, bass, and drum, and the added texture plays well against Nau's vocals. The fuzzy and
propulsive "Hat and Rabbit" is three minutes of indie-pop bliss, a song as good as anything you'll hear all summer.
Anchors & Anvils (Archer)
LaVere, who went to elementary school in Parkville and now lives in Memphis, recently returned to the area for an in-store appearance at the Baltimore Chop bookshop. Like this CD, the show—an intimate affair for a few dozen locals (and a sleeping dog)—underscored LaVere's talent as a singer, slap-happy bassist, and songwriter. LaVere, who's appeared in the films Walk the Line and Black Snake Moan, is partial to "story songs" that are like little movies themselves—country-tinged pop tunes with narratives culled from everyday life. In a breathy voice, she waltzes through songs about spousal murder ("Killing Him"), alcoholism ("Pointless Drinking"), temptation ("Washing Machine"), revenge ("Cupid's Arrow"), longing ("Overcome"), and more longing ("Tennessee Valentine"). A pair of well-chosen covers showcase LaVere's interpretive skills. She turns Carla Thomas's "That Beat" into a gypsy-inflected workout with an Eastern groove, thanks to Bob Furgo's boho violin. And at disc's end, she tackles Bob Dylan's "I'll Remember You." Flanked by Chris Scruggs's steel guitar and producer Jim Dickinson on Wurlitzer, LaVere strolls through the song with uncommon grace. That quality is reinforced by Paul Taylor's crisp drumbeats, and the disc ends with a stately confidence that borders on valor.