Exebelle & the Rusted Cavalcade

V

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Richmond, Virginia-based alt-country act Exebelle & the Rusted Cavalcade embraced a more polished and pop-oriented approach on their 2010 album Vivement l'Automne!, but their 2011 EP V (appropriately enough, it's their fifth release) suggests the band is moving back toward a more traditionalist direction, though they haven't lost the musical intelligence and songwriting skills they picked up along the way. V is dominated by spacious acoustic arrangements, and these four songs sound spontaneous and immediate, though the performances are more than solid, and the musicians play with an intuitive precision that's all the more impressive for seeming so unforced, while the harmonies from the four members are excellent throughout. "Spilt Coffee" is a slow, contemplative number anchored by Ben Willson's keyboards and Kerry Hutcherson's pedal steel guitar, but the other three selections are midtempo string band numbers that ring out with mandolins and acoustic guitars, and though the songs are smart and well-crafted, they sound as friendly as a casual backporch guitar pull (the EP even opens with the sound of a screen door slamming shut), and even when they dip into dark themes (most notably "Is That So?" and its tale of deceit and romantic betrayal), this stuff sounds lively and fresh. With V, Exebelle & the Rusted Cavalcade walk a fine line between music that's organic and honest, and a record that shows off just how smart and accomplished they can be; there's little flash here, but plenty of top-notch songwriting and musicianship, and this release reaffirms Exebelle as a band to watch on the contemporary alt-country scene.

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