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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Album reviews: Recent and recommended for July

  • Get the lowdown on full-length albums by Rhett Miller and Piney Gir, a stellar EP from Don DiLego, vinyl from Leland Sundries and a sparkling new single from Ariel Rubin.

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  • Rhett Miller, ‘The Dreamer’ (Maximum Sunshine)
    Based on Rhett Miller’s 2011 covers collection “The Interpreter” – featuring songs from the likes of The Ramones, Elvis Costello and The Pixies – it would have been reasonable to think the Old 97’s frontman might let his freak flag fly on his next solo outing. But he actually does just the opposite on “The Dreamer,” a mostly acoustic amble through a series of appealing and ultimately touching tales of lost and almost-loves.
    “This ain’t love, but it ain’t bad,” Miller sings on “Long Long Long,” a mid-tempo alt-country rocker representative of his latest collection’s typically perfect mix of romantic pessimism and jaunty musicality. Far from a dreary affair, “The Dreamer” may be fatalistic – “This Summer Lie” (which will “end too soon”) is about as positive as he can get in describing an ongoing courtship – but the songs are awash in a knowing insight about human relationships that’s immediately recognizable. And warm slide guitar licks and backing vocals buoy the whole affair.
    Even when Miller musters some positivity – like when he imagines the day when kids will “climb up our legs as we’re kissing” in “Picture This” – you can tell he probably doesn’t really believe it. But with music this sweet, you can force yourself not to care.
    Piney Gir, ‘Geronimo!’ (Damaged Goods Records)
    Don’t let Piney Gir fool you. Hidden among more than a few light and fluffy lyrics – like on “Let’s Get Silly,” which sounds like it could have been plucked from a kiddie sing-along record – are shades of darkness that belie her ’60s girl-group sound and upbeat melodies.
    Piney Gir (real name: Angela Penhaligon) is a Kansas girl who got her start in electronica, slid over into winking alt-country and tackles a cornucopia of styles on her latest release, all of it anchored by jangling Byrds guitar riffs and crisp, buoyant production. Lyrically, though, she’s strongest when veering from the shiny-happy rhyming of album opener “Out of Sight” into more uncharted territory.
    Take “Oh Lies,” which conflates a dying relationship with religious zealotry – “I never got the hang of speaking tongues, I didn’t have the lungs,” she sings – or the casual violence of “La De Da,” which tosses off lines like “We could have had some fun, go ’head and grab that gun” with a lilting enthusiasm. And “Stay Sweet” confirms every dumpee’s hopes and fears of being thought of “once in a while,” even if she never wants to see you again.
    Original and engaging, “Geronimo!” gets more satisfying, and oddly substantial, with each spin – even if it might sometimes bring to mind She & Him’s twee wistfulness, listen closer and it becomes increasingly clear that Piney could kick Zooey Deschanel’s butt.
    Page 2 of 2 - Don DiLego, ‘Western and Atlantic’ (Velvet Elk Records)
    Where have you gone, Gram Parsons? It’s been almost 40 years since the late country rock pioneer passed away at the untimely age of 26, but he’s still sorely missed – it seems his brand of unvarnished, confessional country music for smart people is harder to come by than ever. Luckily, there are still artists like western Mass. native Don DiLego to keep up the tradition, which he does ably on “Western and Atlantic.”
    A little more rock than country, with just the right amount of twang, the EP covers some familiar lyrical ground, with songs of midnight trains and lonely stars. But DiLego’s words also carry a certain majestic sweep: “The stars are gonna fall and the lights are gonna bend, just to shake your faith,” he sings on “Midnight Train,” and his struggle feels universal and personal at the same time.
    On “Television Sun,” one of the album’s strongest tracks, DiLego brings an alt-country sensibility to an urban landscape: “The street lights are breathing hard, and the crowd shakes far beneath my feet,” he sings in a soaring chorus that recalls Dion as much as Jackson Browne. That fusion of country lilt and old-fashioned rock muscle, along with lyrics that don’t settle for the usual tropes, make “Western and Atlantic” a keeper.
    ON VINYL: Leland Sundries, ‘Roller Derby Queen’ (L’Echiquier Records)
    The Brooklyn-based folk rockers, whose stellar work typically plays like a fuzzy amalgam of Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and The Band, channel their inner rockabilly rebels on their new 7-inch single. Rock ’n’ roll guitar, boogie-woogie piano and honking blues harmonica provide the perfect vehicle for frontman Nick Loss-Eaton’s ode to the titular tough-girl athletes on wheels. And make sure to flip it over for “Givin’ Up Redheads,” a winking, rollicking track off the band’s latest EP, “The Foundry.”
    SINGLE SPOTLIGHT: Ariel Rubin, ‘Waiting Time’
    The ukulele-strumming Boston singer-songwriter’s EP “Big Spoon” was one of the happy surprises of 2011, and Rubin continues her winning streak with this driving single, which makes the most of her charming falsetto. As on last year’s “Mama I’m Leaving,” building percussion provides the backbone for the track, but it’s Rubin’s vocals that make things soar, like a sunnier Florence + The Machine. It bodes well for her full-length album “The Undertow,” due this fall.
    Contact Peter Chianca at pchianca@wickedlocal.com.

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