CD Reviews

KRISTIN HERSH, Sunny Border Blue (4AD) At a recent show, Kristin Hersh told the audience that her son doesn't like it when she screams during a song ("Mom! People don't like to be screamed at!"). Apparently Ms. Hersh has taken this piece of advice to heart. Sunny Blue Border is by no means a tranquil voyage, but it contains little of the histrionic hackle-raising she employed on vintage cuts like "Hate My Way." Instead, as Hersh spins another stormy song cycle about friends, family, and "my stupid life," she constantly develops new melodic and vocal strategies to carry the weight of her scorched-earth emotional bombardment. The instrumental tracks (she plays everything here) are gentle and flexible, yet seem swollen with enormous tears. "Candyland" is a bitter stab at the custody battle over her first child, while "White Suckers" splashes black paint around the Kodak moments of a relationship ("We were a match made in purgatory") as a mournful trumpet tags along behind. Even "Summer Salt," a supposed love song, is a thorny affair ("Let's back up and act like we're sober/For an ugly boy you sure look pretty/a cowboy Frankenstein"). As always, Hersh is tearing harsh pages from her own existence, trying to find something like beauty or at least a temporary sense of balance in the real world. As she sings in "Flipside," "We're still fucking up in a healthy way for now." A strange comfort.—John Chandler

CHESTNUT STATION, In Your Living Room (Drag City) Halfway through this live covers record, frontman Rian Murphy comments, "This song is for people like us." I'm not sure where these purported like-minded souls live, but I'd love to find out. Every song on his band's first EP was named after flicks on the marquee of the defunct Chicago cinema Chestnut Station. Weird, and cool. And these songs are recorded so warmly (by Steve Albini) that I'm reminded of a fake Nirvana live disc I bought, on which the bootlegger simply inserted applause at the beginning and end of Nevermind. Weirder, and cooler. So there's a lot of unique, creative irony here, but that's not half as important as the musicianship and passion behind this collection of groovy retro-rockers. Chestnut Station's sound is kind of like a gyroscope with the Kinks at the axis and everything from the Brady Bunch to Billy Joel careening around the perimeter. The six-piece lends a porned-up, wah-wah swing to "Right On," a James Brown swagger to "Everything Is Gonna Be Everything," and authentic garage know-how (complete with "party horns") to everything else. You know these guys have good taste because almost every cover contains "baby," "child," or "sugar." Must be one hell of a show. —Andrew Bonazelli

LUNA, Live (Arena Rock) Track three is mislabeled: The back cover says "Friendly Advice" when the song is actually "Double Feature." Maybe it's an honest mistake, but I have to wonder whether the band are just embarrassed that exactly half these songs come from the same place. Since I've played the album in question, 1995's Penthouse, hundreds of times, you won't hear me complain too loudly. Though Dean Wareham's vocals are more ragged than usual, which places the context but loses the intimacy those of us who play Luna records over and over again love, his and fellow guitarist Sean Eden's supple six-string pile drive is grimier and no less lovable in this setting, with an even duskier, more psychedelic "23 Minutes in Brussels" especially benefiting. New bassist Britta Phillips acquits herself just fine, substituting sweetness for Laetitia Sadier's dry Gallic croak on "Bonnie and Clyde." None of the remakes takes the place of their studio versions, and Penthouse really is the place to start. But once you're addicted, this makes a hell of an IV drip. And as a sop to late '80s dorm dwellers who've never forgiven Wareham for growing up, learning to project, and moving on, they even rehash Galaxie 500's "Fourth of July." —Michaelangelo Matos

DRUMS AND TUBA, Vinyl Killers (Righteous Babe) Though their simple name is straightforwardly descriptive of their instrumentation, Drums and Tuba (who also have a guitarist) lack the oomph it suggests. Instead, their sound is surprisingly nimble. Vinyl Killer is the band's fourth effort, and if you haven't heard their earlier work, Tortoise are a useful point of reference. But unlike the Chicago post-rock gurus, this band aren't so polished and cerebral—Drums and Tuba actually sound like they're having fun. On the other hand, even with songwriting coaching from Ani DiFranco and Goat Boy Gilchrist on the new LP, the variations in some of the songs, and their progression, are often unsurprising. The skittering, tinny strains of album-opener "Diagram," for instance, suggest the theme music from a particularly hip television news program. The pleasure to be derived from Vinyl Killers comes from the interaction of the instruments: The tuba's more slithery than a bass, and drummer Tony Nozero keeps things just off-balance enough while the guitar adds a light touch to songs like "Topolino." The rare vocal embellishments, as in "Chapeau Russia," work nicely as well. Fun is the key word here; after all, Drums and Tuba draw a lot from New Orleans-style funk jam bands. If the cool kids decided to throw a Mardi Gras party, this would be the band they'd hire. —Will Comerford

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