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CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Steep Canyon Rangers; Plants and Animals; and various artists--The Hunger Games

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Steep Canyon Rangers
Nobody Knows You
(Rounder)

Older bluegrass songs were mere prelude for instrumental breakouts, but younger players such as these pay more attention to songcraft. Not that there's anything wrong with their breakouts. The Rangers can hold their own when it comes to flat-picking, slap bass, soulful fiddle, and sizzling mando and banjo. But what lingers when the instrumentals fade are catchy tunes, clever wordplay, tight harmonies, and meaty melodies. Who can't relate to a line such as "I always tried to do my best/ I've mostly done the opposite," the quiet opening to some jaw-dropping breakdown banjo, mando and fiddle? This well-produced album evokes classic bluegrass, old-time music, jazz, country swing—"Natural Disaster" is as catchy as anything on the pop charts, and "Reputation" sounds like a bluegrass variant of "Ticket to Ride." It's easy to understand their 2011 IBMA Entertainers of Year award. —Rob Weir

*

Plants and Animals
The End of That
(Secret City)

With only two previous EPs and two studio albums to their credit over a career spanning 10 years, this Montreal-based trio offers a new disc full of the sound of a band coming into its own. Where previous records featured 15-minute-plus songs and lengthy instrumental passages, the material here consists of more concise, focused arrangements. Only two songs go beyond six minutes and one, "Crisis," is a bona fide indie rock jam featuring ace guitar work from vocalist Warren Spicer and Nicolas Basque (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals). Complete with lyrics that land "somewhere between a crisis and a pretty good time," the tune is a highlight. For a perfect distillation of the group's take on "post-classic rock," look no further than the title track, which pairs lines about snorting cocaine with sunny female backing vocals and a catchy acoustic strum. —Michael Cimaomo

*

Various Artists
The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond
(Universal Republic)

With 16 "songs written and produced exclusively for this album," Songs from District 12 and Beyond offers a great departure point from which to contemplate the gloomy post-apocalyptic world of Panem, and the quiet self-confidence of Katniss Everdeen. None of James Howard Newton's Hunger Games film score is included (that's sold separately), and only three of these tracks (by Arcade Fire, Taylor Swift, and The Civil Wars) were featured in the film, during the end credits. So this Hunger Games album is more of a tribute (no pun intended) than a soundtrack. Still, with half the artists performing the sort of back porch bluegrass tunes one might associate with District 12's Appalachian roots, the collection has much to offer. "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder," by The Secret Sisters, and Jayme Dee's "Rules" prove especially satisfying, earning the album a solid three middle fingers salute. —Pete Redington

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