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Catch Me if You Can

By John Brodeur

The Long Winters

Putting the Days to Bed (Barsuk)

On their third long-player, Seattle’s Long Winters attempt to build a bridge between the grand pop-rock sound of 2003’s How I Pretend to Fall and the experimental tinkerings of last year’s Ultimatum EP (whose title track gets an amped-up reprise here). Instead they burn the fucking bridge and smoke the ashes: Putting the Days to Bed is a bizarre and rewarding rock record, further evidence that Winters singer-songwriter John Roderick is both a genius and an asshole.

Roderick has a singular way of turning a melody sound upside-down, backward even. (See: “Honest,” the full four minutes of which sounds like it’s being played in reverse.) It’s frustrating at first, as the quirks sometimes threaten to render the songs uncatchy—that is, until you realize six days later that you’re still humming a chorus, or quoting a lyric as your “away” message. Personally, I’m thinking of using this one, from “(It’s a) Departure”:

“I like the old days, but not all the old days, Only the Good Old Days!”

That’s the thing: The lyrics are frequently funny, but they stop short of irony. Instead, Roderick writes honestly, about life- and love-related things that most of us can wrap our heads around, but does so in ways that consistently make you wonder if he’s really talking about what you think he’s talking about.

The melodies are as elliptical as the lyrics. Sometimes the two things don’t rhythmically match up, so Roderick simply forces it to work. Case in point: on “Fire Island, AK,” the “ter” in “letter,” “den” in “garden,” and “land” in “island” all sound like afterthoughts, stretched over the held last note of the phrase. Fragments of melodic phrases trail off into new ideas, beating dead the idea of a standard verse-chorus-verse form. It’s as if he’s refusing to let the listener catch a break. And, if that’s his goal, he often succeeds.

The production, at Roderick’s hand, is just as cagey. Horn ensembles appear for a bridge at a time, then vanish. A fuzzed-out electric guitar threatens to push “Fire Island” into overdrive, but it’s buried under the tambourine, in left field. Canned beats and analog synthesizer pump beneath “Sky Is Open,” which desperately wishes it were a mid-period R.E.M. song. “Rich Wife,” Roderick’s answer to “Gold Digger,” sounds like the Strokes playing Hall and Oates. “Teaspoon” tethers a disco chorus to a verse that’s practically out-of-time. (Bassist- keyboardist Eric Corson, the other original Long Winter, really steps up here, his intuitive lines unifying even the most diametrically opposed musical ideas.)

The brilliant “Hindsight” would be worth the price of admission even if the other 10 songs stunk. It’s a strummy, straightforward number—it recalls Canadian pop superpower Sloan—that finds Roderick singing of a love in stalemate. “I’m bailing water and bailing water/Because I like the shape of the boat . . . And if I hold you now will I be/Holding a snowball when the season changes/And I’m craving the sun?” Heartbreaking and true, this is the album’s emotional center—hence the “asshole” comment. So frustratingly oblique, yet so magnetic, this music.

Annie and the Hedonists

Moonglow on the Midway (Windy Acres)

The Capital Region’s own Annie and the Hedonists conquer a large swath of acoustic territory on their second CD in 16 well-chosen covers. With more than seven decades of swing, bluegrass, blues, contemporary folk, and even Jewish Tin Pan Alley represented, one wonders what, stylistically, this polished, eclectic quartet can’t do.

Led by Annie Rosen, a top-flight singer whose sultry alto calls to mind a young Bonnie Raitt, the Hedonists are her husband Jonny Rosen on guitar and steel guitar, Betsy Fry on bass guitar, and her spouse Steve Fry on guitar, keyboards, mandolin, and, even flugelhorn. All three Hedonists sing backup as well. Along for the often rootsy ride are vocalist daughters Hannah Rosen and Amanda Fry, and local instrumental aces Frank Orsini and John Kirk on fiddle, Dave Kiphuth on banjo, Kevin Maul on dobro, and Peter Davis on clarinet.

The foursome open with “Everybody Loves My Baby,” an uptempo minor-key 1924 Tin Pan Alley tune. Annie slinks coquettishly through the verses, and Orsisni contributes an urbane fiddle break. The next tune, the 1937 hit “Me Myself and I,” stays in the same vein, and Annie stays in form despite a somewhat bumpy ending on the part of the rhythm section. Another 1930s tune, this time in Yiddish, follows: “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen (To Me You Are Beautiful).” Davis’ urbane clarinet gives the tune an appropriate klezmer quality here.

But there’s more than swing on this thing—“You Don’t Know My Mind” is a strutting traditional blues, and Stillhouse is a1996 song by Gillian Welch that evokes Appalachian old-time music with its modal melody. The real jewel of the album, though, is Annie’s moving rendition of Lucinda Williams’ “Sweet Old World,” a lament for a departed soul that shows how the alchemy of music can transcend heartbreak.

Fans of fine picking and masterful vocals will welcome Moonglow on the Midway.

–Glenn Weiser

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