20 Miles

Life Doesn't Rhyme

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Judah Bauer's third release for his side project (his primary gig is guitarist for Jon Spencer's band) successfully builds upon his last album. Brother/drummer Donovan Bauer is replaced by Joe Plummer and keyboardist Luca C. gets full bandmember status, turning this into a quartet -- but the swampy, edgy sound remains the same. Riffs are a little more evident this time around, with "Barely Breathing (For Hank Williams)" and the opening "Easy Living" kicking off with licks you'll remember after hearing them once. The Stones are never far away from Bauer's approach either, and this disc's "Clover" sure has a Jagger/Richards kick to it. In fact, this could be Bauer's Exile on Main St., an album that grows on the listener the more you hear it. Bauer nudges nearest the blues on "This Ship Is Sinking Fast," a twisted, piano-driven piece that sums up his lyrically downbeat life approach. The backwards drums on "Drown the Whole World" add an unsettling touch, but these songs maintain their skewed and dark view while being hummable. Bauer moves into Tom Petty territory on the Chuck Berry-ish rocker "Everybody Knows My Name," the album's most jittery track. Raw but not primitive, this is thoughtful blues-based rock with a tough, uncompromising edge. Bauer has never sounded better either; his burnished talk-sung vocals are dramatic but not pretentious. The few disc-closing lyric-heavy ballads slow the momentum to almost a dead stop, but they hone his shadowy, black-and-white noir rocking by adding some Leonard Cohen gloom to his already intriguing mix.

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