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Tide Pretty
By Bill Ketzer

The Sixfifteens

Feature, Conference, Transfer (Fake Chapter)

Obvious influences like Sonic Youth and Superchunk aside, the Sixfifteens could establish themselves as an indie-rock force in their own right with this first full-length deal. Why? Because unlike last year’s somewhat fragmented Let’s Not Think About It EP, on this album the band’s strengths have congealed, each song a coherent part of the whole sack of screws. Here is a band who want to kill but not hurt, who proudly deliver a kind of lost, lunar lamentation, looting the emotions, shooting high and sleeping in the streets. Yet the effect serves to uplift. They leave you with grace and sore ears. These souls aren’t tortured (nor do they pretend to be), just a bit strident at times.

The guitars of Bob Carlton and Jeff Fox compliment each other with a reverence that creates a surprising amount of muscle. “The Rapture” is a tremendous example, as is the audio tsunami of “Tex Watson,” which is compounded tenfold by drummer Joel Lilley’s kick as it mimics Sharon Tate’s terrified and possibly visible-by-then heart during a particularly haunting pause. Here is music that swells and recedes like an uncompromising tide, and it is during the well-timed crescendos that the work is at its most powerful, making the almost hesitant quieter melodies that much more iridescent. And Carlton’s hilarious auctioneering during “I’m a Shit” and exasperated cantos of “The Xerox Machine” add that wink of an eye that is so sorely missing from so much of everything these days.

I’ve never really learned where to put this kind of music—in my house, in my head, in my heart. But I taste the shattered glass of the halfway house; I suddenly long to drunk-dial old friends whose trust I betrayed. It’s another swing of the axe, a wet kiss. A fast-forward city drive, a flume of deleterious, hopeful but truculent scrunge, like the smell of some strange foreign city that delivers total recall when you return years later. And that feels ridiculously decent.

The Hunger Mountain Boys

Blue Ribbon Waltz (Old-Fi)

In the 1930s, singing brother duos accompanying themselves on acoustic guitar and usually mandolin were among country music’s biggest stars. Bill and Charlie Monroe, the Louvin Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys and others laid the cornerstone of bluegrass, and, via the Everly Brothers, even influenced the Beatles’ vocals. The Hunger Mountain Boys—Teddy Weber and Kip Beacco of Great Barrington, Mass.—have reached back to the Depression era to revive this rich duet sound with their second record, Blue Ribbon Waltz. Although it doesn’t top the pinnacle of the style, superpickers Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs’ 1980 collaboration Skaggs and Rice, acoustic music fans will love the disc nonetheless.

As with their first CD, Fashioned in the Old Way, Weber plays guitar and dobro and sings tenor, and Beacco handles baritone vocals, mandolin, fiddle, and guitar. Both are polished pickers, although the guitar is too low in the mix at times. Accurate harmony singing as well as strong instrumental chops also is crucial in this genre, and with the exception of a few flat notes at the top of Weber’s range in a couple of cuts, they’re dead on pitch.

The 13 songs on the record range from hard-driving uptempo tunes to slower weepers. Eight are originals that could pass for chestnuts from the heyday of the country brother acts, which is just fine. Highlights include “Dreaming,” in which the pair switch between call-and-response singing and their usual two-part harmony, and “Cry Away the Years,” a waltz-time original about divorce with a memorable line in the chorus: “For way too long, we’ve gone on snipping each other’s wings.” Weber plays dobro once on “Cold Feet,” and Beacco’s smooth fiddling also gets a single cameo on “I’ve Had a Big Time Today.” The title cut, “Blue Ribbon Waltz,” a sweet, restrained instrumental, concludes the disc.

Kudos to the Hunger Mountain Boys for revisiting a neglected corner of American music and getting it right.

—Glenn Weiser

Paul McCartney

Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard (Capitol)

Like McCartney, his 1970 solo album, Paul McCartney’s first studio album in nearly four years is largely self-created—except it’s produced by Nigel Godrich, who has polished the likes of Radiohead, Travis and Beck. Counter to its title, Chaos and Creation is casual and comforting and goes down smooth; there are echoes of “Blackbird” and “Julia,” latter-day Beatles tunes. There is remarkable versatility, but in precious few tracks are there chaos and creation, the forces McCartney suggests shaped this disc.

The best is “Riding to Vanity Fair,” a dreamy, intoxicating track about the false steps one might take in forming a friendship. McCartney says he had trouble fitting “Vanity Fair” onto the album, and it’s an anomaly, indeed, surfacing between the skeletal faux-Brasiliana of “A Certain Softness” and the gentle strum of “Follow Me.” Lyrics have never been McCartney’s forte; melody is, and it largely serves him well here. Such tunes as “Fine Line” and the “Let It Be”-like “Anyway” are very pretty, and production touches like the overdubbed chorus on “Anyway” and the strings that spice otherwise overly laid-back tracks help.

But overall, McCartney sounds a mite too comfortable here. The rocker who last surfaced on Run Devil Run, a stunningly slick and hard collection of covers McCartney released in 1999, is nowhere to be heard.

—Carlo Wolff

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