Martin Zellar & The Hardways

Scattered [Bonus Track]

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With a strangulated voice somewhere between '60s Bob Dylan and '70s Neil Diamond (whose "The Grass Don't Pay No Mind" he faithfully covers here), Martin Zellar's fourth solo studio effort isn't a departure from the rest of his catalog, but it's still one of his sturdiest outings. The muscular, yet unobtrusive three-piece Hardways provide twangy support, helping Zellar's strummy singer/songwriter tunes recall all things Byrds. But these tracks are so well conceived and performed that all the obvious folk-rock and Springsteen influences don't distract from Zellar's vision. While his vocals are an acquired taste, like Dylan's, they serve the music well by infusing a rough-hewn edge to these slices of Americana. Zellar's snapshots of down-and-outers, like the protagonist in "Barfly," vividly detail an entire life ("My skin's an awful place to be") in under three minutes, driven by a jaunty shuffle urged by sheets of reverb lead guitar. The upbeat tunes are more successful because the singer's voice doesn't sound quite so forced, but the drama that this band generates throughout is palpable. Dan Neale's lead lines energize the mid-tempo, near-psychedelic "Summer Song," a song that gradually shifts moods from quiet to threatening. The opening "Here's to Everyone" rings out like a great lost Tom Petty track, perfectly setting the disc's taut tone. Tight, passionate, and boasting more singalong choruses than a John Mellencamp album, Scattered is a moving and powerful work that deserves a wider exposure than it's likely to receive.

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