Anne McCue

Koala Motel

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Australian roots rocker Anne McCue swings for the fences on Koala Motel, her third solo effort. Enlisting the help of X's John Doe, Heart's Nancy Wilson, and No Depression stalwarts Lucinda Williams and Jim Lauderdale, she offers a batch of radio-friendly midtempo rockers that are clearly targeted for a mainstream breakthrough. The result is mostly successful, and a far more coherent effort than her previous album, Roll, which saw McCue trying on everything from gentle folk ballads to a fuzzed-out psychedelic freakout cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun." The only problem is the songs. They're not bad; they're simply a little nondescript. On the positive side, McCue is an expressive singer, capable of channeling an aching sweetness on "Coming to You" and fire and bravado on "Hellfire Raiser." And she's a very fine guitarist, particularly on the blues-inspired tracks like "Driving Down Alvarado" and "As the Crow Flies," which give her a chance to stretch out and display her formidable chops. But it is telling that the album's best song is its only cover, Tony Joe White's gritty swamp blues "As the Crow Flies." Time and again McCue aims for the tough roots rock that her friend and mentor Lucinda Williams has mastered. And time and again she comes up just a little short, settling for vagueness and easy rhymes where Williams would have opted for a finely realized detail or an idiosyncratic character study. Still, Koala Motel offers ample evidence of McCue's talents. The songwriting may come with more time. If she doesn't knock the ball out of the park, she still connects solidly, delivering a satisfying set of hard-nosed rockers.

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