Hudson Bell

Captain of the Old Girls

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The prevalence of acoustic guitar and slow to mid tempos would have some peg Mississippi-born songwriter Hudson Bell as a folkie, but Bell's songs unfold according to a peculiar logic that clearly places him in the world of post-punk indie rock. The way he makes his literate and occasionally verbose lyrics fit with the twists and turns of his tunes is reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus and Jonathan Richman, and the arrangements and instrumentation are always just a bit off-kilter. The prime subject matter for Captain of the Old Girls is either ruminations on the politics of relationships or detailed character sketches in the mode of Stuart Murdoch. "Expatriate" is addressed to someone from the narrator's past, and an edge of bitterness grips Bell's frail voice as he sings of changes and loss, until distorted guitars erupt midsong and provide the release to the tension created by the song's dirge-like rhythm. A much more whimsical tone permeates "The Other Side," a glowing song with spare acoustic backing that's as intimate as a love letter, though again, one addressed to someone no longer in the narrator's life. The reminiscing takes on a jubilant tone on "Halcyon Days," as Bell recounts tales from a youth spent immersed in rock & roll. This track points up the album's only real weakness: The propulsive melody and chords would benefit from being fleshed out by a full band and, as with the rest of the album, Bell plays most of the instruments himself. Still, Captain of the Old Girls remains an engaging collection of smart and affecting songs.

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