Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause

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After the slightly disappointing Behind the Barber (not bad, simply a bit insubstantial), Rollerball answered with one of their best albums yet, the more song-oriented Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause. Actually, the 15 tracks on this CD are almost evenly split between songs and instrumentals, but Mimi Wagonwheel and company are smoothing things down on this release. Exit the ska-punk episodes: the songs lean toward intelligent pop, with accessible arrangements and moving melodies. Of course, things are not that simple and the lyrics would not pass by unnoticed on mainstream radio (even songs like the beautiful "Erzulie" and "Coburn" have an odd atmosphere), but Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause contains some of Rollerball's best-written, most memorable material. Plus, it features Mae Starr as a full-fledged singer, her deep alto voice crooning seductively. As usual with this band, the instrumentals shuffle the deck: odd beats, strange solos, a reggae feel here, an avant-garde jazz angularity there -- they act like prisms showing different facets of what has just been heard. Both songs and instrumentals are kept short and to the point: no wasted time, no extra chorus repeated for the sake of duration. Melodies are catchy enough to catch them the first time, so once they have been exposed, the band moves on to the next transitional tune, then straight into another song. The basic quintet receives help from a cast of regular friends, including singer Stefania Pedretti and drummer Bruno Dorella (of OvO), tubaist Ben Wright, and maverick sax player Jacopo Andreini. There is not a single throwaway on this album, except maybe for the "hidden" lo-fi jam, which will definitely not be to everyone's liking. But who cares, as long as there are songs like "Erzulie," "Tipping the Tree," and "Sores"? Recommended.

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