The Red Thread
Ship in the Attic, Birds in the Subway (Badman)
Given that the comparison has dogged him since the 2003 release of After the Last, Jason Lakis probably doesn't want to hear that his band sounds strikingly similar to Calexico. But while that's often the case, it's certainly not a bad thing: On the aforementioned debut and 2004's exquisite Tension Pins (both released on Badman), the leader of Oakland's the Red Thread crafted laid-back, spaghetti-western songs that tugged at heartstrings without resorting to alt-country clichés. For better and worse, the song largely remains the same on Ship in the Attic, Birds in the Subway, which finds the trio Lakis (ex-Half Film), Mike Schmiedt, and new member Dan Martin continuing to hone their woozy, pedal steel-fueled Americana without actually changing much. As a result Ship offers up 11 songs that, despite their many wonderfully languid moments and soft-pop hooks, are ultimately indistinguishable from one another. And while that may seem like a nitpicky complaint when it comes to material as solid as "Wax Museum" and "Ship in the Attic," two of the band's strongest recordings yet, it must be noted that the Red Thread are too good to let their songs slip into country-music monotony. The Red Thread play Sat/27, Hemlock Tavern, SF. (415) 923-0923. (Jimmy Draper)
The title of singer-songwriter Brittany Shane's third album, Decked Out, might refer to her fashionable appearance on the record sleeve or the Neil Young-style title track. But those who have heard her two previous self-released discs will take it as a reference to a new, fuller rock sound that recalls the moody jangle of heyday REM and the stomp of Tom Petty's band the Heartbreakers. It's a welcome change that lends more support to her alto voice and thoughtful songs, particularly on "Fruits on Your Vintage," where guitarist Bob Spector conjures the Jayhawks' Gary Louris atop Bruce Springsteen-ish lyrics ("He's down by Steve's Tow looking for a fight / He's grown fond of his old friends' whiskey and Kool lights"). Other highlights include the aforementioned "Decked Out" and the melodic "Come Around." There are two missteps, however: "I Was Wrong" wanders aimlessly, and the tongue-in-cheek genre exercise "Club and Disco," while not a bad song, deviates from the tenor of the rest of the album. Shane makes up for it with the pretty folk song "Pocketful of Riches," where her voice comes alive with projection, control, and high notes on lyrics that show an eye for detail ("I've got a feather from November / And a penny from 1963"). (Alex K. Fong)
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