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While the alt-country frenzy of the '90s and beyond saw a huge number of mediocre also-rans flying the banner of the genre, a few groups, such as Minnesota's Bellwether and New Hampshire's Say Zuzu, quietly knocked out great albums that represented some of the best work of the idiom. With its primarily acoustic, sometimes stripped-down aura, Bellwether's 2001 work, Home Late, merits comparison to Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker, the more acoustic side of Wilco's Being There, and Richard Buckner's Devotion + Doubt (with its more down-tempo tracks). Frontman Eric Louma has one of those rustic, earnest voices that seem designed for this kind of music, and catchy, poetic tracks like "Sugar Moon" -- which features some great pedal steel from alt-country's favorite sideman, Eric Heywood (Son Volt) -- really push this release over the top. This is a startlingly strong effort from top to bottom, and some highlights include the uplifting folkyness of "Dim Light," with its sweet strains of fiddle; the country-pop shuffle of "Baltimore"; "Crooked Heart," which merits the comparison to Adams' Heartbreaker; and the trio of ruminative, bruised numbers that finish off this fine effort.

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