Music

CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Hat Check Girl; The Sweetback Sisters; and Nightlands

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hat Check Girl
Road to Red Point
(Waterbug)

If your idea of a cool country duo is the contrived drama of Lady Antebellum, steer clear of Hat Check Girl (Annie Gallup and Peter Gallway), whose Road to Red Point is populated by drifters, desperados, and losers who wallow in regret instead of moving on. Hat Check Girl’s scorched earth country is literal on “Texas is Burning,” a cross between chronicle, song, and Beat poetry. In “Under Those Trees,” Gallway sings: “I never took to the Bible but the words ring true/It’s a hell of a story when you’re lonely or blue.” Gallway’s Bible reading seems confined to the Old Testament. You want happy endings? Search places where “it’s colder than Satan,” and he isn’t the worst thing lurking on redemption’s path. Even their love songs have spikes. This is material that Dave Carter might have conjured after reading Nietzsche. It’s also a sonic wonderment filled with poetic honesty—a bold, unconventional album. —Rob Weir

*

The Sweetback Sisters
The Sweetback Sisters’ Country Christmas Spectacular
(Signature Sounds)

Though the concept is a little hokey—hokey in the same way that Garrison Keillor occasionally makes me want to punch his smug, honkey-tonk face—the Sweetback Sisters remains a good enough band that even suffering through yet another album of Christmas songs is not too painful. The production (by guitarist extraordinaire Ross Bellenoit) indicates an even more perfected mastery of re-creating something like the Grand Ole Opry sound, with a result that feels like equal parts Andrews Sisters, Patsy Cline and Bill Haley and the Comets. Vocalists Zara Bode and Emily Miller have finessed their craft more as well, honing tones and warbles that mimic old-time classic country singers even better than last year’s Looking for a Fight. The covers are superbly performed, and the Jesse Milne original “Nine Days of Christmas” will give even the biggest cynic a chuckle. —Tom Sturm

*

Nightlands
Oak Island
(Secretly Canadian)

Oak Island is an album that’s oddly easy to label with a single word: lush. Nightlands is the solo project of Philadelphia musician Dave Hartley, and Hartley’s music is an extraordinarily sophisticated take on pop. On the album cover, Hartley is literally silver, and the mechanized aspect of the album is the deeply layered production. Hartley experiments here with stacking his voice atop itself many times over to create a saturated swirl of vocals. Those vocals usually rest atop a bed of ambient-like sounds, and by the time your ears have grown used to those sounds, rhythms and occasional washes of guitar chord propel the music. The chords are, according to press materials, almost all major sevenths. Though those materials make the overbaked claim that this is “the most nostalgic harmonic grouping,” there is indeed something irrevocably wistful about the wide-open sounds of a major seventh that keeps the songs anchored, never far from the lush overproduction of ’70s pop. Worth noting: Oak Island, Nova Scotia is the site of a longstanding search for buried treasure. —James Heflin

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