Dec 21, 2005 at 12:00 am

Matt Arbogast’s dry rasp really does suggest Tom Waits, as everyone seems to say. But he sounds as much or more like Dickey Barrett (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), which no one ever seems to mention. Maybe it’s because it’s cooler to conjure the Waits imagery — the cabarets, the broken-down bandstands, the shot-out streetlights. But Arbogast doesn’t talk about any of that on Souls, his third full-length as The Gunshy. He knows he’s no veteran like Waits or Nick Cave, and instead shows his age in the solemn chords of “I Am Not Who I Used to Be,” in the realization that love trumps excess in “My Nicotine, My Whiskey” (as in: “She is...”), and in how he builds a nice little song out of a random tavern meeting in “$4 Pabst.” Arbogast’s songs are best at their quietest and most bare, and his voice shines when it’s clouded with angst learned from indie rock. Unfortunately Souls also includes a less successful batch of full-band numbers, songs that falter because they drive constantly toward something that never arrives, the violins and trumpets crowding Arbogast out of his own bedroom studio. When things are simpler he owns the songs and his voice.

Johnny Loftus writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].