Noise 

Drive By Truckers
The Dirty South
New West

Last time I listened to a Drive By Truckers record (the last one: Decoration Day), I couldn’t figure out if I was hearing an authentic voice of new southern rock or an elaborate grad-school put-on. The record, wrapped in that mystery, blew me away. With The Dirty South, I’ve determined (liner notes, unavoidable obviousness) that what we’ve got here is a put-on (no idea if grad school is involved).

That’s no inherent problem, artifice being one of rock and roll’s prime virtues. Still, this has the unavoidable whiff of several somebodies trying way too hard to sound like something they’re not quite; this is self-conscious fiction, and the sort of rock and roll it aspires to—for good or naught—worships authenticity. I don’t know if it’s the band’s fault for keeping too close a faith with the storyline, or mine for losing it.

But no question now, we’re dealing with Southern Gothic of the sort that will be familiar to readers of Harry Crews, and mildly disappointing to those who know that Barry Hannah is a finer practitioner still of that narrow art. Think Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” crossed with Lynyrd Skynyrd and you get Decoration Day, a thoroughly rocked and occasionally creepy record by any measure. Add a dose of .38 Special and some ill-advised falsetto and you’ve got The Dirty South. I liked the creepy one better. (Brad Tyer)

Mastodon
Leviathon
Relapse

Boy, was this one ever worth the wait. Atlanta’s finest really release the Kraken on Leviathan—a late-summer maelstrom of pile-driving riffs and banzai drumming to stir the embers of the most reticent metal fan.

Mastodon is to most metal as a melt-in-your-mouth wedding cake is to a pile of eggs, confectioner’s sugar and unbleached flour. You can find all the ingredients separately in the other aisles—Opeth for the intricate melodic bits, High On Fire for the down-and-dirty orc metal—but it’s how they all come together that makes Leviathan such an engrossing listen. One minute it’s Skynryd, the next it’s Sepultura, and it all flows together naturally—none of that partially digested “I know, let’s twist people’s heads around by going from this super heavy part into something pretty in, like, half a second” school of piecemeal songwriting.

Every song on Leviathan is epic in scope and majestic in execution. And if drummer Brann Dailor doesn’t rack up a slew of critics’ picks and readers’ choice awards this year, I’ll eat a Keith Moon biography. Beat the rush and put Leviathan on your Best of 2004 right now. (Andy Smetanka)

Catie Curtis
Dreaming in Romance Languages
Vanguard

I’m down with go-it-alone artists carving out a niche for themselves through self-determination and relentless touring, without the corporate bankroll. I’m even pleased there’s a livelihood to be earned setting coffeehouse journal entries to music. I admire Catie Curtis, a lesbian, for framing a love song with the gender-specific her instead of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell you, and hate the fact that it’s crass for me to suggest that her sexual orientation is a selling point in itself but perfectly OK for a queer publication to call her a “sexy and solid lesbian songstress” in the first line of a recent article.

It’s not that I don’t like folk-rock, either—unlike some people, I’m just not a straight-ticket voter. And anyway, since when does folk-rock have to sound like something off the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack? That’s not journalistic hyperbole; Curtis’ songs have appeared on that program, as well as Felicity (danger, Will Robinson!) and Chicago Hope.

Call it the DiFranco Conundrum: I like what Catie Curtis stands for, but I’m totally unmoved by her music, which I find bland and treacly. Movies with angels give me hives; ditto albums, and Dreaming is lousy with them. Even the title suggests a Meg Ryan vehicle looking for a producer.

You probably already know whether this is your bag or not. To me, it’s just more audio fabric softener that I happen to be allergic to. (Andy Smetanka)

Marquis de Suave
Marquis de Suave
Twisted Kite

Troy Warling was always the mystery Fireball, the guy who kept the lowest profile in Missoula’s rowdiest band and left the self-replicating hype duties to the other guys. Yet he was also the one who would come winging out of left field with an impromptu cover of “Silver Wings” when you least expected it. “Meow Out Loud,” a Warling-penned track performed by his other Missoula band, the Jolly Ranchers, appeared on a 1995 Wäntage Records compilation seven-inch, and it’s more than enough reason to track that artifact down.

Now Warling, who left the Fireballs some three years ago, wears his country heart on his sleeve again with a new Portland band that also includes Jason Fleming of the Goddamned Gentleman. Everyone in Marquis de Suave contributes songs and/or vocals to this eponymous debut, but Warling’s are the standouts for reasons both musical and extramusical: “There Is No One,” written about the death of his first child, is barely a minute long and sad beyond words. Companion piece “Devour You,” a murderous ode to the party directly responsible, barely conceals its poison beneath a hard candy country-rock coating.

The album is being put out on Twisted Kite, Ear Candy Music owner John Fleming’s new in-house label. It’s time you paid him a visit—his first release is a real beauty. (Andy Smetanka)

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