Five years after her musical debut , Hungarian-born former actress Eszter Balint (remember Eva from Stranger Than Paradise?) delves deeper into her primal nightmare blend of roots rock, blues, and angular swamp funk, and comes up with Mud. Produced by J.D. Foster, the set features Balint on vocals and guitar aided by downtown improvising axeman Chris Cochrane on guitars, bassist Mike DuClos, and drummers Phil Hernandez and Nic Brown, the album is a teeter-totter of tension, and slack yet compelling rhythms and quirky melodies. Balint's songwriting style descends from Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams, but is far from anchored in those boggy moors. She's heard all of the alt-country records, the jagged edges of 1980s downtown New York no wave, and the hollow dynamics of post-Nirvana indie rock -- and she's found them all wanting. Her closest peers are, perhaps, Joe Henry -- as evidenced by his last three records -- the Marianne Faithfull of Broken English, and the Los Lobos of Kiko. This is a different kind of Americana, one observed and fought with by an immigrant who comes filtered through the smashed Hollywood dream, the romanced view of a country that has long-since disappeared into Greil Marcus' "Old Weird America," and a present New York full of ghosts, loose-wire energy, and the wish for a clean, emotional break with the past. Balint's songs, whether they be engaging, bossa-flavored love dislocation anthems such as "No One," the shambolic rock & roll of "This Lie," the wah-wah and funk paces of the teetering-on-the-brink-of-disappearance soul-blues of "Here We Are," or the minor-key Link Wray choogle of "Your God," Balint and her band get the job done. They show up, turn it up, and let fly with a collection of songs that balances nuance, grace, toughness, and a cool reportorial cynicism with the many faces of rock in the 21st century. Most of this sounds live, there are few keyboards layered in the mix and it all throbs with a kind of languorous tension that makes it shabbily elegant and rustically beautiful.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek