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Bad Livers
Blood & Mood
Sugar Hill

Dubbed a slam-grass band for its distinctive brand of hillbilly punk, this Austin band has enjoyed critical kudos over the course of 10 years but remains fairly obscure in the commercial realm. With the dusty acoustic folk of "Little Bitty," the distorted rock vibrations on the careening "I'm Losing" and the twangy, jangly bluegrass of "Death Trip," Bad Livers doesn't play rockabilly at all. The group's sound is more like deconstructed avant-garde bluegrass punk with a severe rock edge. A departure from previous Bad Livers material, this album should surprise those familiar with the old stuff. Danny Barnes took a risk making an acoustic album full of samples, dropping trippy beats into the disjointed "Looky Here" and lyrically referring to old country hits like Barbara Mandrell's "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" ("Love Songs Suck"). (Sarah Quelland)

Tara MacLean

It's been three years since Tara MacLean's graceful 1997 release, Silence (on Nettwerk Productions), and in that time the Canadian singer-songwriter has performed on the Lilith Fair's second stage three years running and toured with popular acts like Barenaked Ladies and Paula Cole. Silence was a modest production that sold about 25,000 copies, but it was a sharp, sensual and intelligent album with a raw, dramatic air that set MacLean apart. That's why, although it makes for good business, it's still disappointing that Passenger takes such a mainstream approach. MacLean, whose crisp, haunting vocals could carve out their own niche, edges into folky organic pop areas already cultivated by Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and the Corrs. While Silence had a cool, independent touch, Passenger feels common. There's no doubting MacLean's ability, but here she just blends in with so many other female artists. (SQ)

Nilsson Sings Newman
Buddha Records

NSN's 30th anniversary reissue edition finds both Randy Newman's early songs and Harry Nilsson's decathlete voice ageless. Newman's piano playing is quiet and spare, and can't help but sound humbled by the labyrinthine multitracked vocals. "I'll Be Home," for instance, has Harry singing plaintive lead while acting as his own call-and-response gospel squad. But hearing him growl like Mahalia Jackson is just half of the matter. While the vocal personalities are densely webbed, their beauty transcends their status as gimmicks. Nilsson's team of voices peel away at Newman's firm, almost filmic ("The milk truck hauls the sun up/the paper hits the door/and the subway shakes my floor/and I think about you") sensibility. It's still luscious. (Edward Crouse)

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From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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