Steve Almaas

Steve Almaas & Ali Smith

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Continuing on the winning streak started with 2001's excellent Kingo a Wild One, Steve Almaas teams up with girlfriend Ali Smith (a noted photographer who used to be the bassist in the psychobilly Speedball Baby) to record a small-scale and utterly charming collection of largely acoustic, country-tinged pop tunes. The album kicks off with a delightful cover of the Fleetwoods' soft pop classic "Come Softly to Me" -- with Smith's dreamily sweet double-tracked lead set perfectly against Almaas' twangy take on Gary Troxell's "dom dom, domby-doo-wah" part -- and continues through a 12-track set of originals and covers, split equally into thirds: duets, Smith leads, and Almaas leads. Smith's gentle coo and Almaas' Minnesota-meets-Memphis inflections rub together uneasily at times, which gives their harmonies a little frisson akin to that of the Handsome Family, without the morbidity. Almaas plays the lion's share of instruments, with ex-Holly & the Italians bassist Mark Sidgwick and Speedball Baby's former drummer, Andy Action, completing the trio; the arrangements are folksy and rough-edged, but never barebones. (Producer Mitch Easter and multi-instrumentalist Jon Graboff pitch in as well.) Highlights include sensitive covers of the dB's' "Moving in Your Sleep" and Jack Logan's "Shrunken Head," plus a rollicking version of the traditional folk song "Baby out of Jail" that sounds rather like Fairport Convention's more electric moments, not to mention a fab Smith-sung version of "Mistake," a song Almaas wrote back in the Beat Rodeo days. Unpretentious but captivating, Steve Almaas & Ali Smith is a welcome addition to Almaas' solo records.

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