These guys have been around for 10 years, picking up a few Grammy nominations along the way, and remain strong despite some personnel changes. Now with a new lineup and "Dog Days," they have a new "leash" on life.
Their brand of slightly offbeat country music ranges between alternative and traditional, often mixing the best of both styles.
Instrumentally, this quartet shows dexterity on guitars, steel, pedal steel, drums, and bass. The fine harmonies are especially articulate to put across a particular, in-your-face point of view with some clever lyrics. The melodies are enjoyable and clearly country throughout.
One of the album highlights - and there are several - is "The Devil and Me," sounding every bit like something Elvis Presley would have done. And there's good reason for that, because the background vocals are done by his longtime helpers, the Jordanaires.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
"Extraordinary Machine" is a fresh, haunting work. Apple sings and writes with a confidence that belies her somewhat tortured persona and with her piano at the center of most of the songs, she builds intricate pop tracks that take full advantage of her smoky, sensual voice and unfailing musical instincts. There's a sophistication to the lyrical content that at times is almost intimidating in its complexity. "Windows" is perhaps the best example, using the symbolism of breaking a window "better that... than him or her or me" as motif for what happens when emotions are bottled up.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Scoring a political thriller about the global oil industry seems like a daunting task. But French composer Alexandre Desplat proves himself worthy of the task with this captivating disc of classical orchestration.
The meandering score is interspersed with cymbals, percussion, strings, and a carefully-executed, light dose of electronics to convey a modern Middle Eastern setting. It's a musical atmosphere of danger and intrigue that Desplat achieves with a continual sense of energy, even when he slows down the score enough for a soft piano solo.
- TOM HENRY
LIVE AT THE CONTINENTAL CLUB THE AUSTIN EXPERIENCE, Junior Brown (Telarc) Recorded live in Austin in April last year, the 12 tracks show why Brown is so popular on the club circuit. Showing off some impressive chops on his formidable-looking guit-steel (a double-necked device that pairs a six-string guitar with a steel counterpart), Brown cuts loose with his booming vocals on a heaping helping of country, blues, Tex-Mex, western swing, and rock for some exciting fun. K.R.
MUSIC FROM THE OC MIX 5, Various Artists (Warner Bros.) Just in time for those starting to wonder whether it was time to break up their love affair with OC indie rock, the producers have come through with the best collection they ve given us since the first or second album. Phantom Planet has some fun with an unplugged version of the show s theme song, California 2005, and Imogen Heap does some wonderful harmonizing on the finale, Hide and Seek. T.H.