Mercy Creek

Bonfire of Vanities

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Yet another two-person band, the Virginia-based duo of singer/guitarist Cheryl Nystrom and drummer Jim Ball use the more aggressive side of AAA radio, such as it is, as their starting point: echoes of John Hiatt, Evanescence, Sheryl Crow, and Barenaked Ladies' more serious moments appear throughout Bonfire of Vanities. Nystrom, an emotive singer with an appealing voice, unfortunately is less gifted as a lyricist, favoring pedestrian themes and heard-it-before imagery. (Seriously, the album begins with a song called "Born to Rock." When did it become 1974 again?) But as a general rule, songs like "Ready or Not" and "I'll Find a Place" are melodically sturdy enough to forgive their lyrical imperfections. The set also comes with a secondary live disc that covers Mercy Creek's back catalog in a laid-back live-in-the-studio session, on which Nystrom unfortunately indulges in some faux-blues growling, but which shows Ball's impressive facility at filling in the corners of the sound; like Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls -- a band Mercy Creek otherwise don't resemble at all except for their gender makeup -- Ball understands that a drummer in a two-person band takes on a greater responsibility than mere timekeeping.

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