Lonesome Brothers,
(SpiritHouse, 2004)

The past two Lonesome Brothers albums, Swamptown Girl and Pony Tales, raised the bar as well as expectations. Well, the fifth Lonesome Brothers release, Fences, continues their bar-raising quality in a similar vein, with their nigh-trademark familiar sound and back-door accessibility.

One of the Lonesome Brothers -- either Jim Armenti or Ray Mason (no per-song credit/info on even their website!) -- has a quasi-nasal vocal style that in the proper context can cover a broad dramatic spectrum. While "Try Me Out for Awhile" shows how his unique voice can play on a sad note, there's also evidence of his voice being the primary (or at least secondary) funny element, such as the sadsack "Help Me Please" or "Lucky Size Seven." Check out the vocals and the lyrics in "Frozen George," a song about building a coffin for a frozen corpse that died in the "cold-cold weeeenter." That's musical dark comedy at its best. The title track is the only song in which it's difficult to ascertain the mood of humor or sadness.

OK, the other Lonesome Brothers vocalist has a very contemplative and interesting style. It's a mixture of serious softness and regret-filled reflection that's similar (of a sorts) to Jay Farrar. It works best in somber ballads, such as "Church of Nicotine" or "Come to the Window." It's not all slow songs for this vocalist, though. "I Aim Low" evokes a bit of Credence Clearwater Revival, a bit of cajun/zydeco and a lot of tempo.

In possibly the best song of the album, "If I Had No Shoes," there are several elements that contribute to its greatness. There's a fine bass riff at the beginning; there's the aforementioned contemplative vocal style and there's also strong imagery evoked by simple yet poetic lyrics. But, the underlying percussive elements by Tom Shea is what really makes this such a successful song. This is more than a backbone supporting the more flashy aspects -- Shea provides a rigid stable structure that holds everything together.

Besides the lack of information of who-does-what on which song (c'mon, guys, can't you make it easier for the reviewers?), Fences is a resounding success. This album has some damn fine alt-country/Americana music. Heck, it's damn fine music, regardless of genre. It's broadly appealing and a delight to the ears.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 19 March 2005

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