Concrete Blonde


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After reuniting for 2002's Group Therapy, Concrete Blonde disappeared into the desert. Singer/bassist and occasional psychic medium Johnette Napolitano's Southwest is a spiritual hotbed of shamanistic sunsets and coyote-fueled nights, and on Mojave the veteran Los Angeles trio ably provides its soundtrack. Guitarist Jim Mankey and drummer Gabriel Ramirez paint a dusty, ominous, and urgently bleak background for Napolitano's husky voice, a voice that once married the lupine howl of Chrissie Hynde with the kerosene croak of Tom Waits, and is now as dry as the desert itself. Mojave is atmospheric and tense without ever really sinking its teeth in, despite the promising opener, "The "A" Road." There are attempts at melody ("True to This") and humor ("Jim Needs an Animal"), but the overall effect is like listening to a compilation of Nick Cave B-sides -- the mostly spoken title track aims for Cave's "Tupelo" but never delivers the musical thunder that its sublime imagery hints at. The Death Valley funk of "Someone's Calling Me" recalls the Concrete Blonde of old and an eerie cover of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" provides some choice spooky moments, especially when Napolitano reaches for her higher register, but as a whole, the album suffers from an odd formlessness. Mojave isn't a bad record, but its reliance on regional lyricism requires a less meandering musical coat.

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