David Lowery made his first record with Camper Van Beethoven in 1985, and in the quarter-century that's followed, he's been content to project his distinctive musical and lyrical persona through the framework of CVB, and later, Cracker. But in 2011, Lowery has finally gotten around to releasing a solo album; The Palace Guards was recorded with a revolving cast of musicians at Lowery's own studio in Richmond, VA, and though parts of it sound and feel quite a bit like his work with Cracker and occasionally it reveals shadows of CVB's eclectic gumbo of sounds, the mood of The Palace Guards is decidedly different than what Lowery has offered us in the past. The Palace Guards is a far cry from a serious statement on the world, but for a guy who has built a career out of being a surreal smart aleck, this album embraces a worldview that's decidedly somber and contemplative. "I Sold the Arabs the Moon" offers a symbolic history of deceit and armed conflict set to a moody waltz-time melody, "Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing to Me" is a crunchy rocker complete with big guitars and shouted vocals as some guy tries to explain his lousy attitude toward women to his significant other, and the title tune is a shambolic acoustic number about a hero whose motives seem more than a bit suspect. The Palace Guards isn't an album without a sense of humor, but given that Cracker and CVB were funny bands in the best sense of the word, the relatively dour tone of this album feels significant; these songs are rich and clever, and Lowery's many friends and collaborators offer excellent musical support on a piece of work that in subtle but important ways is an album he couldn't (or wouldn't) have made with either of his usual bands. Lowery might not want to make a career out of his serious side, but The Palace Guards shows he can wise up and still make music that's smart and satisfying.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming