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  • Rich Kassirer

CD reviews: Zoe Muth, Buddy Miller, Shannon McNally

There’s a lot you can miss in a short span of time when you are trying to get your teen through the college-choosing process. In the last month or so, I realized, I have neglected some very good CDs, so I offer here some capsule reviews of albums that are worth a listen. Here’s the first batch.

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, "Starlight Hotel"

As it proudly boasts in the publicity materials for this album, Modern Acoustic named Zoe Muth last year’s “New Artist of the Year” (see it HERE) for her debut album, which floored us with its authentic country sound brewed to perfection in Seattle, of all places. Now Zoe returns with the follow-up, “Starlight Hotel,” and the prospect of taking her band of Lost High Rollers on the road to those honky-tonks where their brand of music was borne. The new album opens with “Ring of Fire” –like horns and pedal steel giving way to a voice with a twang you swear is a direct descendent of Loretta Lynn on “”I’ve Been Gone.” The band has become more comfortable, more coherent in the year or so between releases – pedal steel, mandolin and acoustic guitars mingle together to give the songs deeper soundscapes. And Zoe’s lyrics continue to surprise, not what you’d expect from a typical 20-something. There’s lots of heartbreak and yearning: On “Harvest Moon Blues,” she sings: “I always feel lonely, even in the best of company.” And on our favorite tune, the jukebox blues, pedal-steel-laced “If I Can’t Trust You With a Quarter (How Can I Trust You With My Heart,” comes this line: “When I heard that jukebox start/I knew the cupid’s dart had missed its mark /If I can’t trust you with a quarter how can I trust you with my heart?”

"Buddy Miller’s The Majestic Silver Strings"

Needless to say, Buddy Miller is an incredible guitarist and is near legend status in Nashville. On “Silver Strings” he brings in three other amazing guitar players – Marc Ribot, Greg Liesz, and Bill Frisell – and then invites guest vocalists Lee Ann Womack, Ann McCrary, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin. Yeah, just a bunch of Buddy’s buddies hanging out and playing music. The best songs are the ones that rock out, including “No Good Lover,” with Ribot and Frisell trading solos and McCrary adding some powerful vocals, and “Why Baby Why,” a kickin’ country tune. “Dang Me,” a rewrite of a Roger Miller tune, features Chocolate Genius (singer-songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson) on soulful vocals and is the lone tune to provide a present-day context to the album. The instrumental “Freight Train” is just plain fun to hear the four axemen trading licks.

Shannon McNally, "Western Ballad"

As the title suggests Shannon McNally’s latest collection of tunes is a musical ride down dusty roads, with occasional stops at honky-tonks along the way. Opener “Memory of a Ghost: sounds like the country cousin to Prince’s “When Doves Fly,” with Shannon’s southern-tinged vocals singing “Time and time again/I listen to the wind/waiting in vain to hear/to hear your footsteps/coming near/time and time again.” Jangly guitars with some added effects give “High” a mesmerizing, almost psychedelic feel. The album is filled with low-fi sonic treats. The title track, created from an Allen Ginsberg poem, is played slow and smoky, with spare guitar and drums behind it. The second to last tune, the traditional “Little Stream of Whiskey,” feels like an end-of-the-day salute to the train leaving the station, filled with rolling piano, accordion, and marching drum.

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