Robbers On High Street

Fine Lines

Every up-and-coming band is touted as the new Smiths, Joy Division or Velvet Underground. Rarely does anyone deliver. And even though Britt Daniel is alive and well, Robbers On High Street might very well be the new Spoon. Lead singer Ben Trokan modestly labels his contributions to Fine Lines, their first EP, as "Remainder" instead of the ubiquitous "Vocals," but Trokan's voice takes anything but the back seat as he evokes a throaty Britt Daniel/withered Julian Casablancas. Whether or not the band members themselves condone the comparisons, the album's marketing campaign targets "fans of Interpol, Spoon and the Strokes."

Robbers On High Street might lose points for lack of originality, but the post-punk/funk created in Fine Lines is far from stale. Tracks such as "A Night at Star Castle" and "Debonair" are tight and downright danceable -- never spoiling their welcome. Throwing comparisons aside, Robbers On High Street deliver.

-- Kevin Lo

Ingram Hill

June's Picture Show

How is it that modern rock DJs don't play Ingram Hill every other song? The Tennessee natives, who follow up their 2002 debut album with June's Picture Show, have crafted an album of twelve disturbingly airwave-friendly rock songs similar to Creed and 3 Doors Down. Fortunately, they lack the unfounded self-importance of the former and the sappy sentimentality of the latter, instead infusing their rock songs with fun Nashville-flavored twang.

The album starts off promisingly with snappy songs such as "Never Be The Same" and "Slippin' Out," but eventually it peters out, relying on pop clich‚s to fill the artistic void. Instances of overproduction are everywhere, creating excessively polished numbers that add to the shallow, Now That's What I Call Music!-type feeling which permeates the album. If Ingram Hill wants to conquer the airwaves, perhaps it's only a matter of time, but if they have further artistic ambitions, they have a lot of work to do.

-- Jim Newell

Keb' Mo'

Keep It Simple

Four-bar blues are as extinct as the dodo among the over-produced pabulum that passes for music on any non-public radio station. So a new release by the seminal artist Keb' Mo' is welcome indeed. His mix of gospel, pop and steel slide-blues offers a south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line slice ol' fashioned, sweet-tea-drinking melodies.

The track "Riley B. King" pays homage to blues statesman B.B. King and features dynamite guitar work by Robert Cray and Robert Ford. "Prosperity Blues" is a droll lament of the good life: "My bills are paid/ And my checks don't bounce/ I can't even crack a frown/ Since the blues slipped out of town." A few tracks, such as "France" and "Shave Yo' Legs," slide easily in one ear and out the other. Still, even the standard adult-contemporary "Closer" is redeemed by a flawless fiddle and some quiet handclaps.

-- Will Fenton

Mason Jennings

Use Your Voice

If Dawson's Creek were an album, it would be Mason Jennings's Use Your Voice. In the tradition of WB soundtracks, he sweetly croons about hope, lost love and small town hospitality. So unabashedly American, his acoustic guitar and harmonica reflect a contemporary Nick Drake or Bob Dylan.

Ironically, the power in this album stems from its minimalist, linear guitar strokes. Jennings does not try to impress with intricate guitar riffs or passionate wailing. Instead, he simply explains his point of view and leaves it at that. Following upbeat opener "Crown" with the calmer "The Light Part (III)," Jennings perfectly sets the mellow tone of the rest of the album. Disrupting the album's subtleties, the weakest link of Use Your Voice is "Lemon Grove Avenue." Despite a few low points, Use Your Voice will nevertheless electrify the current buzz surrounding this up-and-coming artist.

-- Kali Backer

The Washdown

Yes to Everything

Style and craft make records. Yes to Everything says yes to style -- no to craft. The Washdown performs convincingly in the retro garage-rock idiom: trebly bass, fuzzy guitars and throaty vocals produce a bouncy and patently hip record. But craft -- songwriting and melodics hooks -- is just not there.

Yes to Everything is danceable, head bobbable and air drummable; there are no flat tracks. "Kansas City" and "Awful Truth" are electric; "We've Listened to Your History" and "Pull. Out. Work. Space" are effervescent. But the album leaves no impression, no enduring melodies and no memorable lyrics. The music ends when the player stops. Style and craft make records. Yes to Everything is half a record.

-- Jon Levin


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