Dubious Ranger

Uneasy Truce at the Watering Hole

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San Francisco's Dubious Ranger lead off their third album, Uneasy Truce at the Watering Hole, with the 11-minute "Gemini," a statement of purpose that segues from sound effects into an attractive pop/rock tune before devolving into musique concrète and then concluding with an extended keyboard-based prog rock passage à la Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Nothing on the album approaches the length of "Gemini," but it incorporates many of the disparate musical approaches found on the rest of the disc. Singer/lyricist/keyboardist Alexander Eccles seems to be at the creative center of Dubious Ranger, contributing free-associative nonsense words in the manner of acknowledged influences like Devo and Talking Heads, and he leads the arrangements with his classically influenced playing. But Dubious Ranger then take what he gives them and go off on their own, sometimes, as on "Ghost Ship," for instance, bordering on jam band excursions. Like their new wave/art rock antecedents, too, they also border on novelty music in the absurdist words ("Intermezzo #2" finds them repeating the phrase "social anxiety" over and over) and the showoffy eclecticism of the music. This is particularly true of Eccles, of course, as he sings with tongue in cheek and ranges across his keyboards, sometimes like a manic Billy Joel, sometimes ("Intermezzo #3") like new age pianist David Lanz. But Dubious Ranger manage to go just up to the edge of silliness without slipping over, which lets their audience in on the jokes in an engaging way.