Music Reviews: January 2014

New music from Manuel Barrueco, The Country Devils and Small Apartments

By John Lewis - January 2014

New music from Manuel Barrueco, The Country Devils and Small Apartments

New music from Manuel Barrueco, The Country Devils and Small Apartments

By John Lewis - January 2014

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Manuel Barrueco (Tonar Music)

The first half of this disc is comprised of solo pieces nodding to 19th- and 20th-century Spanish folk music, and Barrueco wrings every bit of dramatic emotion and gentle nuance from them. The guitarist then performs movements from a flamenco-infused orchestral suite with similarly evocative results. Barrueco, who teaches at Peabody, conveys the tragedy at the heart of the Euripides play that inspired the music and, buoyed by the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, taps its mythic grandeur. It’s a compelling performance that makes Barrueco’s January appearances with the BSO especially intriguing. They’ll be performing a guitar concerto written for Barrueco by composer/Towson professor Jonathan Leshnoff, a piece that Barrueco says “exploits the guitar to its fullest.” Considering the source, that statement warrants attention.

The Quick & The Don’t Get Any

The Country Devils (RatHawk Records)

Six songs in, this disc seems in danger of racing past without showcasing the band’s considerable strengths. The first half gallops along at a breakneck pace——pausing only for the unfortunate sing-along “Mentally Ill”——that exudes a generic cowpunk vibe that probably goes over better in bars than on record. But when the tempo eases on “Death Blues,” singer Michael Beresh settles into a twangy sweet spot that he and the band sustain for the rest of the album. The transformation is considerable as Beresh wrings feeling from each line, shadowed by sparse banjo, mandolin, or pedal steel guitar at every turn. And, as the music slows to a crawl on “Beatlemania vs. Gun Control” (extra credit for the WTF title), the Devils achieve a level of poignancy that’s downright heavenly. An album of dirges may be in order.

The Country Devils play The 8x10 on January 25 with Bobby E. Lee & The Sympathizers and Chester River Runoff.

Secrets Within

Small Apartments (Friends)

The recent return of husband-and-wife rockers David Koslowski and Shirlè Hale, after an extended stint in North Carolina, injects a healthy dose of kick-ass into the local music scene. After releasing the anthemic Monumental Life (as Free Electric State) in 2012, they’re back with a new band featuring Helikopter drummer Greg Dohler and a characteristic set of sublime, head-nodding tunes. It’s an unabashedly 1990s sound, but it never veers into nostalgia. “You Never Dreamed,” “Threads,” and “White Winter Birch” certainly recall The Pixies, Nirvana, and My Bloody Valentine——but they also radiate a restless creativity that’s barely harnessed by recognizable parameters. That’s what gives Koslowski’s and Hale’s music its undeniable kick.

Small Apartments and Weekends play the Ottobar on January 25.

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