Sonic Reducer: Shovels & Rope • Rare Monk • Cactus Tractor

Sonic Reducer: Shovels & Rope • Rare Monk • Cactus Tractor

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Shovels & Rope surprised us on Nov. 20 with a new album of collaborated cover songs called Busted Jukebox, Volume 1. The ‘Volume 1’ hopefully indicates that there’s more of this type coming, because—as with most things that Shovels & Rope have done—it’s quite good. With artists like Shakey Graves, The Milk Carton Kids, and JD McPherson, S&R have created a diverse record that is bursting with joy and the sheer excitement of playing favorite songs with musicians they really respect. The two stand-out tracks are the cover of “Strangers” with Inlaws, and “Perfect Day” with Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Ending with “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” the only track with just Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, is a reminder that the two have amazing chemistry that shines bright in other groups as well as on their own. The person I want to be on their next collaboration album? Willie Nelson. (Robin Babb)

Rare Monk Rare Monk (EP) (B3SCI Records)

Rare Monk seem to have a thing for the apocalyptic. The Portland, Ore. band’s new self-titled 4-song EP contains two tales of national disaster. “California (Will Burn)” tells of the frightening aftermath of the inevitable total depletion of water in California. Similarly, on “The Only Reason to Tour the Midwest,” Dorian Aites sings “Orlando’s sinking underwater/San Francisco too/it’s time we turned to the Midwestern states again/cuz’ both the coasts are through.” Their creative and very story-driven songwriting is what makes Rare Monk’s songs really interesting. But the solid production from Tom McFall (Weezer, Bloc Party, R.E.M.) and the group’s dreamy instrumentals don’t hurt. It’s highly listenable, indie rock with more than a little literary flavor. They’ve yet to release a full-length album, but have said that they’re currently working on new music to be released early next year. (Robin Babb)

Cactus Tractor Lydian Water Songs (Humbird)

While examining the stylings of the new Kickstarter-funded Cactus Tractor album, this reviewer also perused the mighty blog of Cactus Tractor which confirmed the band to be both clever troubadours and confident naked apes, sans les “hangups” as a group-sex commando unit from a Harryhausen-era Hercules movie—this tidbit indicated by the ancient greek-costume clad Cactus Tractor pictorial in the companion booklet to Lydian Water Songs. In a moment of revelation related to said booklet, I recognized the violinist as almost certainly the same seen flying over her own handlebars after her violin case appeared to have violated her spokes in a not-as-funny-as-it-sounds single bicycle accident. “You show boat don’t tell.” So, yeah. Smart, funny, Americana-weird with horns and a variety of modes from silly to sentimental. Come for the precision, stay for the bacchanal. (Geoffrey Plant)

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