The Blackeyed Susans

All Souls Alive

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By the time of this album's release, the group's second lineup had gelled sufficiently so it felt less like an Australian alt-rock/roots supergroup and more like a joint effort. Snarski's rich vocals, which pay homage to great country crooners of the past while at the same time showing up some American "new country" singers as weak-voiced wannabes, lead the sextet in a series of heartfelt songs. His combination of rock forcefulness and just-twangy-enough brooding also suit the lyrics, courtesy mostly of Kakulas and McComb, quite well. Images of emptiness, forlorn hope, romantic bitterness, and religious iconography litter the songs, but rather than amping things up รก la countryman Nick Cave, the Susans coat everything with just enough honey in the arrangements. It could be the soothing backing vocals on "We Could Have Been Someone" or "Reveal Yourself" or the mandolin from guest performer Mark C. Halstead on a number of songs, but, in any fashion, it shows the band as one easily able to balance bite and sweetness. Ellis' organ, accordion, and violin efforts definitely add to the proceedings, though anyone expecting the level of his Dirty Three work will have to look elsewhere -- he contributes to the sound, especially at the end of "Dirty Water," but doesn't dominate the singer/guitar combination at the core. McComb steps to the vocal fore on one song, a cover of the Leonard Cohen/Phil Spector track "Memories." Keeping the same full approach Spector whipped up for the original but performing in their own musical style, the Susans do an arguably more successful version than the original, bringing out its tearjerker sentiments to the full. Snarski takes lead on another cover, a fine, low-key version of Johnny Paycheck's "Apartment No. 9." The album concludes with its strongest track, "This One Eats Souls," an absolutely bereft-of-hope lyric given beautiful, haunting music.

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