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Toughened and tightened through nearly three years of touring (which yielded a handful of excellent live albums available through their website), Twinemen's sophomore studio disc seems more mature and comfortable than the band's debut. Singer/guitarist Laurie Sargent is better integrated and is more relaxed in her role as frontwoman/singer/rhythm guitarist. Songs such as the sensuous "In My Head" perfectly offset Dana Colley's magnificent baritone sax against Sargent's husky vocals. The sound has expanded to include subtle use of vibraphone, organ, kalimba and lap steel that occasionally add depth, but never clutter their characteristically spare approach. Reedman Colley blows serious Paul Butterfield-styled harp and takes lead vocals on the bluesy "The Definition of Truth." His slightly distorted talking voice is reminiscent of their late Morphine leader Mark Sandman. The steamy ballad "Twilight" brings all the elements together in one of the group's finest and most poetically passionate tunes. The carnival atmosphere suggested by the album's title and artwork is reflected in "The Circle," a dancehall-styled closer complete with overdubbed "found" vocals. The band ventures into edgy, almost avant-garde territory with the gruff "Saturday," the disc's most challenging and least melodic track that features distorted talking from Colley but never quite finds its groove. The group's Morphine background arises in "Speed of Light," a typically dark and ominous tune that shows how effectively the band takes their roots and twists them into a different but unique form. Although they will never totally break away from their success as the nucleus of Morphine, Sideshow proves that Twinemen have plenty of room to explore fresh, innovative territory without severing or minimizing their ties to the past.

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