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Sinister Luck Ensemble
A growing legion of progressive Chicago musicians keeps shaping into new collectives with impressive results. The latest entry: Sinister Luck Ensemble, led by guitarist/pedal steel player Charles Kim, who wrote and arranged all of the tunes on this gorgeous album, a triumphant evocation of melancholy. This is music to stare out the window by, preferably when it's cloudy and you're warmly enveloped in ennui. SLE includes musicians whose affiliations include Wilco, Isotope 217, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, Pinetop Seven, Fruit Bats, Vandermark 5 and others. They play a series of slow, graceful melodies augmented by unhurried improvisations. Guided by Kim's artful arrangements, the players delicately weave various combinations of accordion, violin, cello, muted trumpet, guitars and pedal steels, backed by the gentle but firm rhythm section of drums and acoustic bass. While Anniversary incorporates traces of jazz, folk, Celtic, chamber and soundtrack music, it remains essentially unclassifiable. The one common denominator: uncommon beauty. (Perishable, www.perishablerecords.com)
—Eric Snider

Kyle Fischer
Open Ground
Kyle Fischer is one-third of Rainer Maria, and obviously this disc's biggest audience will be fans of that trio. Whether or not they'll dig Open Ground, however, will largely depend on exactly what each likes about Fischer's main outfit. If it's the humanity and poetry, they're in luck; if it's the daring and dynamic art-rock, well, they're not. Driven primarily by acoustic guitar, subtle drumming and Fischer's introverted, edge-of-silence vocals, Open Ground comes off as subdued to the point of inducing sleep. Headphones starts things off on a contemplative, low-key strum, and Kissing Cabernet ends it up the same way. In between, there are five more interchangeable acousti-Fischer tracks; two less-than-stellar tunes by fellow RM member Caithlin De Marrais (Too Soon To Know sounds Appalachian, The Noon Day Song sounds noisy, and neither sounds good); and the disc's one standout, a beautiful version of Otis Redding's Just One More Day, sung by De Marrais. This gorgeous, evocative reading of Redding's ballad serves to make Fischer and De Marrais' meandering, unplugged artiness all the more mediocre by comparison. Open Ground isn't horrible, it just isn't much. Recommended for hardcore Rainer Maria fans only. (Polyvinyl, www.polyvinylrecords.com)
—Scott Harrell

Pressure Point
London-born-and-based electronic crew Freestylers' sophomore album, Pressure Point, manages to blend the West Indian, African, Caribbean and Asian influences so prevalent in their richly international hometown but without any hint of freshness. Producers Aston Harvey and Matt Cantor reach out to drum 'n' bass, dancehall, house, vintage pop and old school hip-hop on the disc. While the album is not merely a continuation of their debut, We Rock Hard, and its MTV Buzzworthy single Here We Go, it still doesn't add much to the fast-growth world of dance music. Buried at the end of the album is Told You So, a soulful, organic rock track that (minus the turntable scratching) almost seems out of place on a record so dependent on breakbeats and toasting. Most of the rest, including the first single, Get Down Massive, is made up of serviceable party tunes hardly distinguishable from much of the big beat-y dance tracks out there. You'll probably hear Freestylers sometime soon while walking down Seventh, and they'll just melt into the throbbing miasma of an Ybor Saturday night. (Mammoth)
—Quincey D. Vierling

Wayne Hancock
A-Town Blues
Blending Hank Williams' attitude, high lonesome moan and couplet skills with the honky-tonk trimmings of Webb Pierce and the Western swing of Bob Wills, Wayne Hancock has created a style all his own that typifies the hardcore country movement that is slowly chipping away at the slick ballads and silly boot-scootin' dance tunes dominating the country airwaves today. Although Hancock's instrumentation and occasional yodel would fit nicely on 1950s radio, his lyrics probably would have gotten him hanged or deported during the Eisenhower era. On Viper, Hancock gleefully extols the virtues of marijuana, but he then redeems himself by offering an amusing public service announcement on the album's fourth track: Miller, Jack & Mad Dog will do you every time/ But they're no good for staying to the right side of that line. (Bloodshot, www.bloodshotrecords.com)
—Wade Tatangelo

Nathaniel Merriweather Presents Loveage
Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By
Merriweather, a.k.a. Dan the Automater, applies the wizardry he brought to Deltron, Dr. Octagon, and Gorillaz to a new collection of downtempo lust ballads. Mike Patton (Mr. Bungle) and Jennifer Charles provide the loungey vocals, and Automater adds the smooth samples, hip-swaying drums and bass deeper than Barry White's larynx. Together they make up the sexiest album around. (75 Ark, www.75Ark.com)
—Dan Fenwick

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