Cafeteria

Knee Deep

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With Knee Deep, Cafeteria has built a serviceable cabin on the edge of alternative country town. However, it's a few chinks short of a tight fit, and as the record progresses, those loose floorboards and gapped walls make the album a bit less comfy than it might have been. Cafeteria honcho Taylor Joiner handles guitar and vocal duties here; he gets assists on pedal steel, fiddle, and percussion from pals in the Athens, GA, area. Like any denizen of insurgent country, Joiner draws heavily on Uncle Tupelo. But while that pioneering group tapped out its tales of booze, pain, and serenity with a flair for resonant understatement, Joiner's musings on similar themes seem like an affectation. "I used to get drunk to have a good time," he sings in, well, "Drunk." "But now I'm doing this almost all of the time." It's a perennial theme of the genre, to be sure. But when Joiner moans "It's destroying me," he's less than convincing. "At 24" is tinged with a similar slacker ethic. When Joiner says he spends "way too much time passed out in bed or on the floor," you get the impression he likes it there. This shiftless air passes freely between most of the gaps in Knee Deep's walls, making it difficult to find any pride in craftsmanship. "Stones" has a punchy, straight-ahead groove, and Joiner drops the indifference long enough to put some real emotion into the spare "Run for Cover." But mostly, Cafeteria lazily reworks the themes of Tupelo's No Depression -- so-called friends, condemned men, and head-cleaving benders -- over a passable alt.country instrumental foundation.

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