His Name is Alive Xmmer [Silver Mountain Media Group]

Rating: 6.0

In 1990, His Name is Alive released their first album on the prestigious 4AD label in England. The Livonia, Michigan group established itself as an experimental and sometimes ethereal pop band throughout their tenure with 4AD, which ended in 2002. Last year’s critically acclaimed Detrola was their first release for the Silver Mountain label, and Xmmer now follows in very much the same vein.

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PJ Harvey White Chalk [Island Records]

Rating: 8.0

Rural Southwest England is where Polly Jean Harvey is originally from and it is where she has returned to after living abroad for several years. Her new album, White Chalk, is a stripped down, piano based recording that reflects the pastoral and remote setting where she once again resides. It is also the saddest thing that she has ever recorded. The songs are as bare as the chalkboard that the title suggests and her vocals lack much of their characteristic angst, howl and swagger. What’s more, they rarely gain any more volume than a low defeated whimper. However, Harvey has once again managed to cover ground that is unlike anything that she has previously done and her album, although at times painfully melancholy, is at the same time quite beautiful.

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Nina Nastasia and Jim White Live at the Tractor Tavern Seattle, 10/07/2007

Walking into a fairly empty venue on Sunday evening, I was surprised to see only about fifty people in attendance at what turned out to be a great show. I had missed the opening act and Nina Nastasia was already on the stage accompanied by one of the greatest drummers that I have ever seen, Jim White. The crowd, although small, was appreciative and more importantly, was quiet and respectful during the entire show, which is an absolute anomaly in Seattle.

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Carolyn Mark Nothing is Free [Mint Records]


Rating: 6.0

British Columbia native, Carolyn Mark, has been active in the country music world since the early 1990s. She established herself by performing all over Canada and frequently tours the West coast of the United States. In 2000, she released a CD with Neko Case under the band name the Corn Sisters before wandering off to begin a solo career. She has been prolific as she has recorded five albums on her own now and the recently released Nothing is Free is an album that continues in her usual poignant style of roots country a la Tammy Wynette and the Carter Family.

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New Model Army High [Attack Attack Records]


Rating: 8.5

It’s been three years since their last album, Carnival, which was a rhythm section led masterpiece and now New Model Army have just released High, an album that sounds a little more akin to their typical songwriting style, but is no less compelling. The band have been described as being everything from punk to goth to folk, but the truth is that they have always eschewed categorization by just being themselves, a unique rock group led by Justin Sullivan, who continues to write intelligent, passionate music without effort. In this regard, High picks up where Carnival left off and New Model Army remain instantly identifiable and yet constantly evolving with another excellent release.

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Marissa Nadler Songs III: Bird on the Water [Kemado]


Rating: 8.4

What a pleasant surprise the new Marissa Nadler CD was when it arrived in my mailbox. She is a relatively new artist from rural Massachusetts whom I knew nothing about. Songs III: Bird on the Water is her third record, and it is her first that was professionally recorded. It is a folk album in the true sense of the word and it is great. There are no traces of what most would refer to as alt-country. Refreshingly, there is hardly one shred of country at all in this sophisticated collection of folk songs. The songs themselves are quite bare, with minimal ethereal accompaniment and contain a moderate amount of shimmer and echo. The songs are somber and haunting, and if I were to come up with a quick comparison, I would say that she sounds something like a modern day female Leonard Cohen, but she also grasps her own autonomous voice.

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Akron/Family Love is Simple [Young God Records]


Rating: 7.0

It is a bit challenging to introduce Akron/Family to those who may not be familiar with them. The group consists of four young men who mainly write a strange blend of folk-rock that most people will instantly lump into this trendy new category termed ‘freak folk.’ They are not from Akron, OH, and as far as one can tell, they have nothing to do with the town. Instead, they hail from various small towns in the US and have settled in New York City. Their new CD and 2xLP is their third full length album entitled Love is Simple, and it is a continuation of what we have seen and heard from the group on their previous releases.

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