Chris Von Sneidern

Wood + Wire

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At times, Chris Von Sneidern's first three albums sounded like the Bay Area native had committed all his Big Star and Badfinger albums to memory. That's not the case with 1998's Wood and Wire; there're no specific touchstones for these songs. Von Sneidern and co-producer Gene Holder (dB's; the title is a phrase from their song "Amplifier") created a much warmer and more intimate ambience than his previous, almost clinical work. Keyboard whiz Joe McGinty (Richard Davies, Baby Steps, etc.) deserves special credit, coloring songs that previously would have been much more guitar-heavy with an expressive range of tonal colors. Unfortunately, the songs are, to put it mildly, a mixed bag. Kicking off with the album's worst song, "Starting Out," was not too clever. (Continuing the concept by naming the last song "The End" is just silly.) The song is sluggish, sodden with pointless power chords and at least a minute too long. There are other missteps, though none so flagrant as the first. The Wilcoesque "Got A Way With Her" sounds like an alt-country bandwagon jumper, while "Love" and "Feel" are as uninspired as their titles. To be fair, though, most of the other songs are phenomenal and impressively varied, from surging and powerful ("I Can See," "Circles") to transcendently lovely (the Dionne Warwick-ish "Don't Worry Now" and the gorgeous, flamenco-laced "Like Me That Way"). Even the second-tier tunes, like "As You Are" or "Split It," are largely better than some of his more forgettable early material. Close to a third of Wood and Wire falls completely flat, but the remainder is possibly the best work of Chris Von Sneidern's career.

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