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Reviewed this week: Pine Hill Haints, Creole Choir of Cuba, and Gary Roadarmel

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Pine Hill Haints
Welcome to the Midnight Opry
(K)

Classifying their sound as punktry, these Alabama natives offer an engaging interpretation of "ghost music." Though not meant explicitly as a soundtrack for Casper and company, the album still retains a distinct stamp of the supernatural. For instance, "I Wish I Was a Jack-O-Fire" features the use of a musical saw to create a creepy whine reminiscent of the opening to the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And lyrically, many numbers deal with the stories surrounding gothic folk tales. Typical instrumentation includes traditional implements like the washtub, banjo, and acoustic guitar. However, two of the record's shortest tracks deviate from the formula to also include distorted electrics, lurching piano and even live show recordings as well as child-sung vocals. Scary? A little. But also rousing, like when the group shows off its roots on "Desperation Blues." —Michael Cimaomo

*

Creole Choir of Cuba
Tande-la
(Real World)

When, as a reviewer, you hear an album like Tande-la, you remember why you save up your most extravagant superlatives. This 10-voice choir from the Haitian-Cuban community delivers sounds from deep currents both Caribbean and African. The songs, mostly in Creole French, deliver Afro-Cuban rhythms, an unusual Haitian sense of harmony that explodes with energy, and a raw emotional pitch that's somehow melancholy and celebratory at once. The 10 voices are often joined by percussion, and that's all that seems necessary—resonant chords back up lead vocals (lead duties rotate among several choir members) that bleed emotion and careen from belted highs to purely rhythmic noise. Few groups inhabit their songs so well. Be careful: this album can wring you dry—it's compelling and remarkable throughout. The Choir visits UMass-Amherst's Fine Arts Center Oct. 12. —James Heflin

*

Gary Roadarmel
Yesterday Bitter Forgotten
(MohoNoho Records)

There is a palpable sadness to Gary Roadarmel's collection of sparse, solo acoustic performances that touches places usually unexplored except perhaps in some of the lowest points of loneliness in the life of a Johnny Cash or Lowell George-type character. Recorded all on one day, with one microphone, alone in an empty space, the whole album has exactly the effect that Roadarmel likely intends, from the earnestly crafted originals to covers by David Allan Coe, Jerry Chestnut/Mike Hoyer, Roger Miller/George Jones and even a version of former Northamptonite Eddie Holly's "Wastin'." Some of the lighter country covers keep the album from being totally depressing, but in essence this record is pretty much a live performance by one man who seems to be playing his songs to someone he hasn't talked to in a very long time—himself. —Tom Sturm

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