Kendel Carson, Bill Callahan, Chris Whitley & Jeff Lang

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Rearview Mirror Tears

Kendel Carson

(Train Wreck Records)

Even though most folks have yet to hear Kendel Carson's single "I Like Trucks," it might just be the catchiest gal-power, country tune to be issued since Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman." But while Wilson's ubiquitous hit had a slick gloss to it that probably didn't sit well with alt-country fans, Carson's barroom sing-along has a down-home feel that should also resonate with enthusiasts of Kasey Chambers and Lucinda Williams. Either way, give Carson's cheery ode to pick-ups (and "boys that talk trash") heavy radio airplay and watch the phones light up.

Like alt-country favorite Fred Eaglesmith, Carson is from the Canadian countryside, namely, British Columbia, where she picked up a fiddle at age three and went on to perform with the Victoria Symphony. "I Like Trucks" is the second track on Carson's refreshing debut CD Rearview Mirror Tears, which recently came out on the tiny imprint Train Wreck Records. The label is helmed by singer/(legendary)songwriter Chip Taylor, whose songwriting credits includes "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." Taylor and his other fiddle protégé, Carrie Rodriguez, join an all-star band in surrounding Taylor with a swath of warm, front-porch sounds that include clean guitar picking, mournful accordion and gospel-style keyboards.

Whereas "I Like Trucks" is a shot of honky-tonk fun that a 12-year-old could love, the majority of the Rearview Mirror Tears is aimed at adult listeners with an appreciation for expert musicianship, telling details and expressive vocals. "Ribbons & Bows" is a story of a strained father-daughter relationship that Carson imbues with the sound of experience. Same goes for "Gold in the Hills (of Saltery Bay)," a slow, quiet love song about finally finding the right companion. Taylor is credited with penning most of the cuts (Carson gets a cowrite on a couple), and not a single line rings false or forced. Carson captures the essence of each song with a voice that is angelic one minute and sassy the next; there's vulnerability and confidence and plenty of mystery — making Rearview Tear Mirrors one of the most impressive debuts to be released so far this year. 4 stars —Wade Tatangelo

Woke on a Whaleheart

Bill Callahan

(Drag City)

A debut in name only, Woke on a Whaleheart is the first full-length released under Bill Callahan's own moniker rather than under his preferred pseudonym, Smog. Really, it's difficult to figure out why Callahan made the switch. The nine tracks here don't break from his established mold: He still intones in his handsome and oh-so-deep monotone about sex and the Lord, over immaculate acoustic guitars and plunking pianos, to great effect. You could argue that Callahan plays up the country side of things more than before, but that alone doesn't make this disc a sharp departure. 3.5 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker

Dislocation Blues

Chris Whitley & Jeff Lang


The volume of posthumous Chris Whitley music has been surprisingly ample and, even more surprisingly, pretty damn good. Dislocation Blues, a collaboration with Aussie singer/guitarist Jeff Lang, nicely enhances the late cult artist's legacy. Recorded just month's before Whitley's death from lung cancer in November 2005, it's a kinetic, no-frills, mostly acoustic affair that cobbles together a few older originals ("Rocket House," "Velocity Girl"), a handful of new songs cowritten by the pair, a couple of Dylan numbers ("When I Paint My Masterpiece," "Changing of the Guard"), Prince's "Forever in My Life" and the traditional "Stagger Lee." Backed by clattering drums and acoustic bass, the two guitarists intertwine their Nationals and lap steels and bottlenecks (and the occasional electric) into a web of dark, sinewy lines. They complement each other exquisitely — Whitley spews out buzzy cacophonies while Lang, more of a chops player, contributes solos with plenty of feeling and finesse. Thankfully, Whitley does most of the singing. He stood apart from most white blues artists in that he didn't have to affect blackness to give his music soul; he possessed his own, very distinctive black snake moan. Lang, on the other hand, sings with about as much natural blues acumen as Karen Carpenter, and his reedy tenor tends to sterilize the music. These moments are ultimately forgivable, though, in the context of such a heartfelt and consistently mesmerizing album. 4 stars —Eric Snider

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