July 10, 2002

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I.S.S.
Forget about the Girl (Mimicry)

Geez. I've bought questionable music before and gotten strange looks from record-store clerks, but none like I received when I picked up this CD. Which was surprising – I thought the store would be grateful to unload its one copy of the disc, since its online catalog had warned, "Save yourself the embarrassment of owning this piece of crap." And for what? This record is sick and in some ways amazing, actually. I.S.S. are from Santa Cruz and are a concept band – you could call them a "postmodern boy band." The album is a kind of history of boy-band music, starting with the Four Freshmen, the Beach Boys, and the Hi-Lo's and moving to New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys (just briefly in the latter two cases, thankfully).

The album has a self-aware, humorous quality, which is actually the weak link. A couple of songs are ruined by overacted "baby, you left me" monologues that made me cringe the first couple of times and now prompt me to push "skip" on my remote. But I.S.S. can't be written of as a mere joke band. Some of the lyrics may be dumb, but these are really good songs – just not accurate style representations – with some beautiful and (cough) moving four-part harmonies. Who would have thought? There's no clever ironic punch line here, and nothing to be embarrassed about. (Will York)

Mike Marshall and Darol Anger
The Duo Live/At Home and on the Range (Compass)

Since their early encounters in the David Grisman Quintet in the late 1970s, East Bay string virtuosos Mike Marshall and Darol Anger have been linchpins in what came to be called "new acoustic" and "new American string band" music. They chose the generic name the Duo for their 1983 recording debut, but precision chops and gleeful abandon are the only common denominators on their latest release, The Duo Live/At Home and on the Range, as they pluck and bow through a thrilling blur of bluegrass, old-time folk, Celtic, jazz, and Brazilian idioms. If you've been paying attention, you've heard Anger's fiddle and baritone violin and/or Marshall's mandolin, acoustic guitar, mandocello, and fiddle in Turtle Island String Quartet, Modern Mandolin Quartet, Choro Famoso, Psychograss, Fiddlers 4, and the Anger Marshall Band, among other collaborations. But this set of 12 mostly live-in-concert performances marks the first time since 1985's Chiaroscuro that the Oakland buddies have recorded their high and wired act without support. Playing with striking maturity and emotional complexity, they never compromise their sense of fun (confirmed by audience eruptions) as they unravel and reweave their variegated tapestry of songs – three by Bill Monroe, a gorgeous composition from the Swedish band Vasen melded into Tim O'Brien's equally beautiful "The Crossing," three new arrangements of traditional tunes, and five brilliant Marshall originals. Psychograss performs Fri/ 28, Freight and Salvage, Berk. (510) 548-1761 (Derk Richardson)