Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Roots Hoots

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Sibling harmonies may be naturally sweeter, thanks to nature and nurture. Just ask anyone ever taken by the charms of the Everlys, the Louvins or the Stanleys. Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly, taking cues from those artists and other exponents of folk, bluegrass and old-time country, lend credence to that often misguided assumption on Half Mad Moon, a disc kept in limbo for six months thanks to legal hassles with a similarly named Los Angeles band.

The record, a punchy major-label debut produced by altrock knobs man John Croslin (Guided By Voices, Spoon), is well worth the wait. The band’s newfangled take on the high lonesome sound reverberates nicely through the world-weary cowboy hymn "No Sign of Water"; "Spit and Tears," a banjo-flecked saga of friendship and redemption; "Kansas," a period piece edged with fiddle; and the oompah rhythms of the title track.

Bassist Boone and acoustic guitarist Kelly, who left upstate New York for Austin a decade ago, seriously got the twang thing, but it ain’t exactly a ball and chain. "Things I Once Adored," a grabber of an opener, drives home its tale of bittersweet regret with a fierce backbeat, Rob Bernard’s distorted guitar jangle and the sisters’ tangy tangle of vocals. Jimmy Smith’s "Down the Line," one of only two covers, is a ferocious little cowpunker with attitude to burn. "Commercial Zone Blues" is a slow-grinding ballad about the pair’s former digs in a bohemian neighborhood behind the old Antone’s blues club. "Unholy Train" rides R&B rails – and "Finger the Pie," written and sung by Bernard, is pure power pop. And it’s tough to resist the pleasures of "Black Widow," the tongue-in-cheek tale of a stolen amplifier: "Tomorrow on my day off/I’m gonna get up and call all the pawn shops/Describing her distinguishing features/All the times I got shocked and I beat her/I still want her back." Sounds like a true story.


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