Michigan melancholy

Jul 23, 2008 at 12:00 am

Anyone who has caught Chris Bathgate's live sets over the last year will most likely have seen him in loop-pedal glory, eschewing full-band interpretations of his work and layering guitar lines and vocal harmonies to fill out the sound. The six tracks that make up this follow-up EP to last year's full-length, A Cork Tale Wake, have been given this solo treatment largely since their inception — and Wait, Skeleton finally gives listeners a chance to hear them in studio form.

Songs like "Salt Year" and "Cold Press Rail" scrape away most of the guitar-pedal experimentalism and capture an intimacy that handily trumps the more overly produced moments of his LP. The gut-punch melancholy on lines like "Seventeen years before/ I should have hauled off and kissed her/ Now I lace my wine with ginger/ Just let my evenings pass," as well as the closing entreaty to "try again" on "Salt Year," are much better served with these simpler arrangements. It isn't all a lone wolf act, though; "Yes, I'm Cold," with its strident mandolin melody and booming drums, easily lays claim to the alt-country ground vacated by Uncle Tupelo, while the title track's closing minute ushers in a muted, cassette-taped ghost of country-rock glory via electric guitar solos and crashing cymbals. All told, not only is Wait, Skeleton a step forward in sound quality for the Ann Arbor-based musician, but it's also a sturdy slat in the bridge between his traditional songwriting and his interest in contemporary sound.