Jason Morphew

The Duke of Arkansas

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The third album by Little Rock-based singer/songwriter Jason Morphew is a pure pop delight marrying the best elements of slacker-cool songsmiths like Beck or J Mascis and alt-country twang-poppers like the Old 97's or early Wilco, without the occasionally irritating hipster smugness of the former or the hidebound genre conventions of the latter. There's also an element of whimsy here that's akin to the tongue-in-cheek lyrics and playful musical homages of the Elephant 6 crowd, especially on the super-poppy "Sex," an ironically upbeat pop song that rattles along on an acoustic guitar and vintage synth arrangement punctuated by an utterly out of place '60s soul chick chorus that somehow fits right in. Other highlights on this agreeably diverse album include the Neil Young-fronting-Sonic Youth opener "Courting Another's Muse," the brash power pop rocker "High School Cliques" (featuring a killer overdriven guitar sound), and the country-tinged story-song "Badass With a Heart of Gold," but the album's two highest points are "Lipstick Stains," a clever country-rocker whose catchy female-sung chorus (by guest Amanda Johnson) and witty lyrics sound like some sort of cross between Heavenly and Whiskeytown, and the spiraling, self-explanatory "Psychedelia," whose woozy violins, phased guitars, and distorted vocals recall XTC's lysergic era. The low-key (but not lo-fi) production gives the album a pleasantly homemade quality; although it's a full-band album, some of the songs sound like they could have been recorded by Morphew on a bedroom four-track. It's sequenced a bit unevenly, front-loaded with most of the best songs, which leaves the last third of the album a bit weaker than the rest, but overall, The Duke of Arkansas is a genre-hopping treat.

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