Walking Wounded

Artificial Hearts

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Over 15 years after the formation of Walking Wounded, something amazing happened: they became a fully integrated band. This isn't to say that their previous albums were loose or sloppy, because they weren't. Rather, every previous incarnation of Walking Wounded had existed primarily to back Jerry Giddens, an able and entertaining frontman, but one who couldn't always carry off his often grand ambitions. The 2002 edition of the band is a much more collaborative effort, both lyrically and musically. Guitarist Michael Packard co-wrote almost every song on the album and sings leads on about half of them, and while his voice doesn't have the instantly recognizable character that Giddens does, he's good. The first song on Artificial Hearts, the punchy "Thousand Mile Stare," has his best vocal turn coupled to haunting lyrics and a great guitar hook, and it's a track that couldn't have been done by any previous incarnation of Walking Wounded. The songs where he and Giddens harmonize are excellent, as the two men have fine instincts for what will best fit a song. Jerry Giddens has developed a smoother vocal sound in the ten years since Walking Wounded last made an album, and when he takes a lead vocal he fits his voice to the song. His songs are still the standouts -- "Swept Away," "Pleasure Me Now," and "Magdalene Laundry" are high points of the album, and Giddens manages to keep alive "Loot Seattle," the long and menacing reggae number, by sheer force of personality. That number is the only overtly political song on Artificial Hearts, which is otherwise focused on more personal and emotional subjects. The music here is muscular acoustic/electric indie rock with tinges of folk, country, and Americana, with the instrumentation occasionally augmented by Ethan James' hurdy-gurdy, harmonium, and other medieval instruments. The juxtaposition of sounds is daring but successful, which can be said of almost all of this, the best album to date by a splendid but often underrated band.

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