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Two local CDs offer twists on folk, bluegrass

'Trouble' is crisp while Folkin' A's new recording lacks technical quality

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008

T here's finally some new local CDs I found in one of my periodic trips to Capitol Records and - shock! - both claim to offer twists on traditional folk/bluegrass.

Joni Mitchell didn't always tell deep stories and Bob Dylan was seldom intelligible, but the genre has evolved way beyond the point where an album is worthy without a big spark of individual energy. Also, the gimmick of creating a "sound" by saturating it in electronic processing was tiresome decades ago - either have confidence in your talent or take your deficiencies and gizmos to the world of electronica (where you'll probably sell more records anyhow).

Sean Tracey, "Trouble"

"Geeze, this is cheesy" is the impression of the opening honky-tonk serenade - and it turns out Sean Tracey agrees.

The opening song of "Trouble," a 13-song trailer-trash salute by Tracey and 11 cohorts, turns into a spoof at the chorus. The opening line of the next song is "I've been stealin' for a livin' ever since I was 5," at which point it's obvious the good times are off and running. In fact, a big regret is Juneau's lack of roads, since this is ideal road-trip music (at 40 minutes it might work for a trip to Sandy Beach).

Tracey, who fronted the Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band for eight years and has a bunch of other local band creds, takes little seriously on this project despite a couple of all-instrumental breathers and guest vocalist Maridon Boario's hungover misery on "Sunday Mornin." Not everything is pure mockery like "Everything Was Cool" ("until I bought her a gun" is the rest of the verse); "Ocean's A Desert" has a fisherman on a crummy day looking forward to his sweetie at home.

The sizable ensemble ensures a lively and diverse mix of musical envelopes, and everything is crisply and cleanly recorded. In addition to the CD, "Trouble" is available as a $10 digital download at numerous Web sites. Six full-length songs are also available free as streaming audio at www.myspace.com/seanetracey. Downloadable two-minute previews of all the songs are available by using the "play all songs" option at http://cdbaby.com/cd/seantracey (enough content for cheapskates to basically hear all of the lyrics, thanks to the inevitable repeating choruses).

The Folkin' A's, "Meet The Folkin' A's"

There's a good album in here screaming to get out, only people may miss it because someone stuffed a pillow over its face to muffle the cries.

Pity the intruder didn't commit a burglary instead of a mugging, since the villain might have made off with some of The Folkin' A's sound processing equipment and forced them to record this album au naturale. Actually, the guitar/bass/drums frameworks by the '60s-influenced folk-rock group are mostly crystal clear, but the trippy-era mentality captures vocalist/composer Brooke Morgan with a volume and clarity of someone performing underwater.

The shame is Morgan, unlike any given winner of "American Idol," doesn't need massive layers of vocal pancaking. She's got a high and sweet timbre capable of cutting through this mix like an X-Acto. Nine of the 11 songs are originals and, while the lyrics about friendship and good/bad relationships are hardly novel, the writing and performances are personal enough to captivate - if you're able to listen intensely enough to understand them.

Most of the originality comes from liberal sound flourishes ranging from bald eagles to Georgia Horton's choppy flute accents on "The Way I Should Feel," where the sound processing is actually complimentary. It should be noted Empire writer Erik Stimpfle had a higher opinion of the disc when he profiled the band last month. Ultimately, however, I find too much effort is required to appreciate an album that's supposed to harken back to a carefree era.

• Mark Sabbatini can be reached at marksabbatini@yahoo.com



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