Bargin Music, Two Dollar Guitar, Robin & Linda Williams




Bands like Bargain Music make great albums by being vigorously inconsistent. This Long Beach six-piece mostly play dub reggae, but they veer wildly into country and spooky indie rock without hitting one foul note. Their lyrics don't follow any sensible path either; singer Josh Fischel and MCs Dave Williams and Skeleton Man address everything from street violence and pot legalization to happiness, love and colostomy bags. In short, it's a big, beautiful mess. The band started in 1997, when Fischel, who directed Sublime's "Wrong Way" video, gathered some friends of the band for some impromptu jamming. With those connections, they could have easily started billing themselves as Sublime's Second Coming, but Bargain Music avoid even the slightest temptation to indulge in tribute. Their reggae is much moodier and trancier than the crisp Sublime rhythms, and special guest/indie-rock sage Mike Watt's involvement keeps the album from falling too far out of a pop orbit. Watt produced most of the album, too, and sings lead on "Percolator," a creepy rock song that could easily have fit on a Morphine album. The band's concept may be messy, but their methods are precise. (Andrew Asch)


Don't believe that album title—Steve Shelley may not beat his drums with the same gusto here as he does in his other band, Sonic Youth, but the man has never laid down a weak lick in his recorded life. This disc features Two Dollar Guitar founder Tim Foljahn bellowing sometimes deft, hardly lame-ass observations and ruminations on life with a weary voice that calls to mind Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash. It's a voice you really want to listen to, a hearty storyteller's set of pipes. Foljahn surrounds his alterna-country roots (think a slowed-down, somber Meat Puppets, before they went metal) with a variety of collaborators. Indie-guitar wonderguy Nels Cline feeds off the rising tension of the opening track, "Solitaire," with some fantastic, fractured rhythm rips. Cline's old Geraldine Fibbers band mate Carla Bozulich offers some hauntingly flat backing vocals sprayed over tinkling, wind-chimey guitar work, making "Bozo Shoes" a surreal and disorienting trip. Recent Beck and Tom Waits guitarist Smokey Hormel lays down perfect Velvet Underground riffs for Christina Rosenvinge's Nico-like vocals on "Green Room." But maybe the best, most memorable, most biting song is "Everybody's in a Band," a funny and right-on gibe at the current surplus of wannabe artists, writers and musicians who'll do anything to make it, a light ending to an album that mostly shivers through you like an ice-cold shot of whiskey. (Michael Coyle)


Robin and Linda Williams have been playing music linked to the American South for practically a gazillion years; what the husband-and-wife duo's new In the Company of Strangers makes clear is how adventuresome their journey still is. Marked by elegant, soaring harmonies, versatile musicianship and well-crafted story songs, the Virginia couple's spicy melting pot of styles is steeped in folk, country, gospel, blues and hillbilly music. But oozing with retro-tuneage this surely ain't. Capably backed by their Fine Group—especially the dexterous Kevin Maul on dobro, acoustic slide and pedal steel—Robin and Linda sing with an intuitive feel, his husky voice and her sweeter tones blending with both soulfulness and precision. The songs lyrically dig into small-town America with everyday slice-of-life vignettes, both haunting and celebratory. Among the numerous highlights are "The Hard Country," a toe-tappin' sing-along that shoots out of the gate like a bullet; "Sometime Tomorrow," a heartbreaking ballad of loss and healing; and the uplifting, romanticized "Bar Band in Hillbilly Heaven," where our protagonist "dreams of pickin' lead guitar for Hank and Lefty and every honky-tonk hero." The only misfire is a cover of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," which the Alabama-bred Linda oddly sings in a torchy, K.D. Lang-like style that lacks the gritty spirit of the original. Still, the disc overall is as welcome as a turn on the front-porch swing. (John Roos)

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