Noise 

Hit & Run Bluegrass
Beauty Fades
self-released

Let the car metaphors begin: Hit & Run Bluegrass, the self-described “hard-drivin’” quintet from Colorado, gives a smooth ride with their debut CD, Beauty Fades. Their engine purrs with crisp banjo and mandolin licks, and Rebecca Hoggan’s Alison Krauss-esque voice handles dirt road curves with ease.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking Hit & Run is a beat-up pickup with a supercharged engine. Not even close. These kids (they’re all in their early 20s) are almost too proper—they wear long dresses and suits for every gig, and they stay conservatively close to traditional arrangements. You almost wish they would rough up the fenders a bit, maybe scratch the paint to make the effort feel more authentic.

Beauty Fades starts with the title track, featuring a beautiful harmony between Hoggan and the high tenor of mandolin picker John Frazier, ventures to a cover of “Silver and Gold” that highlights Aaron Youngberg’s banjo, and makes its way to another original, “How I Curse That Man,” with upright bass player Erin Coats taking lead vocals. The latter is a great example of the band’s tightness, but it lasts just over two minutes. Damn, you wish they’d run off the road and get a little lost, just for fun. (Skylar Browning)

The Montana Bluegrass Association sponsors Hit & Run’s performance at the Crystal Theatre Friday, March 25, at 8 PM. Tickets cost $12 for the public, $10 for MRBA and Folklore Society members.

Kym Tuvim
On the Mend
Cake Records

It’s nice to hear a singer/songwriter with a robust sound. Kym Tuvim’s second release, On the Mend, doesn’t settle for stripped-down folk production or rely solely on the Seattle native’s truthful lyrics and earthy pipes. To her credit, Tuvim stretches a stereo system with simple songs.

Tuvim draws from her jazz background and musical genes (her dad and grandfather were both accomplished pianists) to produce arrangements on On the Mend that skillfully intertwine pedal steel, a Hammond B3 organ, cellos and a host of other complementary instruments. The result is a CD with great consistency from track to track, enough surprises to avoid sounding the same, impressive musicianship and overall staying power.

Tuvim’s voice has been compared to Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading (which is a bit redundant), and it’s a close call. She certainly has some of that deep and soulful resonance, but unlike Chapman and Armatrading, Tuvim’s voice doesn’t reach the level of being another instrument entirely, of carrying a song on its own. Luckily, it doesn’t need to. Tuvim’s a smart enough songwriter, and too adroit with her band, to need any tricks to make a name. It’s the full package that makes Tuvim a nice find. (Skylar Browning)

Kym Tuvim plays Sunday, March 27, at Sean Kelly’s. The show starts at 7 PM.

Racetrack
City Lights
Skrocki Records

Racetrack will not be affected by your negativity—though they will write a song about it. The Bellingham, Wash., trio’s album City Lights is a compilation of bright-but-scathing post-punk wistfulness and accusation. Produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, it has the gloss of expert engineering but the feel of ’90s indie rock. The pop hooks are smart and bassist Chris Rasmussen and drummer Jackson Long sound equally tenacious. Guitarist Meghan Kessinger’s defiant and pretty voice is akin to that of former Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna, though not as self-effacing.

City Lights is nostalgia inducing, evoking Olympia, Wash., pop and basement bands. “Epitaph” breaks into a Screeching Weasel-ish intro before exploding into a lighter-raising anthem, while “Our Favorite Day” provides a dreamy landscape to house Long’s sturdy vocals. The title track is the most interesting with its shuffled tempos and contagious refrain.

Racetrack’s lyrics frequently center on the band: Their right to rock and their annoyance with critics. It comes off as overly defensive and whiny, but there’s a charm to the ’tude. When Kessinger says she doesn’t “need your permission,” she means it. And the biting texture of the music reinforces that sentiment. (Erika Fredrickson)

Racetrack plays as part of the lineup for the Wäntage USA Western Invasion Friday, March 25, at the Union Hall. The show starts at 8 PM.

Donna Smith and the Junkmen
Habit Breaks Habit
self-released

Donna Smith and the Junkmen certainly don’t like categories. Smith’s influences are in jazz and bebop, but her band spans a spectrum of other influences. A lot of the group’s songs are covers, but Smith’s added lyrics and the Junkmen’s fresh arrangements make the songs new again.

Habit Breaks Habit is just as much a jazz effort as it is a series of funky jams. Smith seduces and scats her way through every track (save for the out-of-left-field reggae cover of Joe Higgs’ “Steppin’ Razor,” later made famous by Peter Tosh) with an alluring, smoky delivery. Behind her, the drums of Dave John and the percussion of Jesus Diaz groove with an Afrocuban tilt, especially on “Footprints” and “Four on Six,” the two best tracks on the CD. Add the more traditional jazz guitar work of Ray Scott and Richie Reiholdt, and the bass play of Bill Liles and Alex Baum, and the Junkmen are a fine complement to Smith’s fronting.

The majority of the songs on Habit Breaks Habit are rearranged standards with Smith’s original lyrics. With the Miles Davis classic “Nardis,” Smith repeats the line, “No one can hold him/if he makes it home” and, surprisingly, the line fits. The lyrical risk is like a lot of what Smith and the Junkmen toss out to the listener—it’s different, but it works. (Skylar Browning)

Donna Smith and the Junkmen hit the Crystal Theatre Friday, March 25. The show starts at 8 PM, and tickets are $8.

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