FRIENDS OF DEAN MARTINEZ

On the Shore

(Narnack Records)

***
There are secrets stored among the prickly pear cactus and juniper trees in the deserts of Tucson, Arizona. I'm convinced of it. How else does one explain the compelling, narrative instrumentals from Tucson's Friends of Dean Martinez?

Comparisons to the Calexico/Giant Sand Tucson posse are inevitable (FoDM started out as a Giant Sand side project, and Joey Burns and John Convertino went on to form Calexico after a couple of albums with FoDM), since On the Shore's 17 tracks are definitely influenced by the Southwest's dry, hot winds and open skies. But thanks to Bill Elm's gorgeous pedal steel and Mike Semple's somber, daydream-inducing guitar melodies (along with moody contributions from the organ, accordion, and Mellotron, among others), the stories told on this double-CD set are undeniably their own--reverberating with slow-motion sensuality, quiet nostalgia, private thoughts, and still-healing wounds. "In the Wire" ends with the lovely, lonely sounds of desert rain; "Omaha" hints at the slightly sinister moments one can experience when spending too much time alone. "Main Theme" is tinged with dusty nostalgia and cautious hope, while the melancholy twang of "Wichita Lineman" reminds us that "happily ever after" is never a guarantee. These could even be love songs, really--albeit love songs for the unrequited, the forlorn, the slightly bruised. MIN LIAO

SHARPSHOOTERS

Twice as Nice

Light in the Attic Records

****
After a five-year absence, the new CD by local boys Sharpshooters (DJ Supreme and DJ Sureshot), Twice As Nice, comes as a total surprise, a freak of nature. Everything they've done up to this impressive point has been rendered mere child's play, musings with studio knobs in the unconscious manner of boys playing with xylophones or Erector sets. Sharpshooters' earlier stuff wasn't entirely bad; it was comparable (and often on compilations) with much of the decent stuff that came out of the Ninja Tune/Shadow Records scene of the mid-'90s. But in terms of ambition and achievement, nothing from this past measures up to the present project. Twice As Nice is coolly controlled, designed, and managed. Consisting of 29 tracks, 13 of which are short interludes, the beats are mostly of the hardcore boom-bap order, accompanied by either old-funk licks (played by Erik Dahlberg and Hans Fahling) or new-jazz vibes (played by the infinitely smooth Gary Gibson) and electric keyboards (played by the infinitely luxurious Jim Noriega). Christina Honeycutt offers occasional vocals, but the CD features no rappers--which may be its only flaw, because hiphop instrumentals like "Down In This Town" are ripe and ready for the kind of decadent, exhausted rhymes that rappers like Cherrywine or MF Doom (the greatest rapper to ever walk the earth) could deliver. Altogether, this is a complete work of downbeat art. CHARLES MUDEDE

Sharpshooters perform with DJ Spinna Fri Feb 28 at Chop Suey

ALVARIUS B AND CERBERUS SHOAL

The Vim and Vigor of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal

(North East Indie)

****
If there is an afterlife, and I'm not banished to hell for a life's worth of snide comments, promiscuity, and socialist tendencies, I think Cerberus Shoal will be waiting on a cloud to greet me just after I cross over to the other side. Their harmonies are the sound of ascension, resting on fluttery, feathery transcendence with a haunting pureheartedness. They sing with baptismal clarity over a blossom of field recordings--a percussive typewriter, rickety guitar, the silverware clatter of a cafeteria. They are cherubs delivering absolution, singing (on "Ding"): "Sky blue and cherry-red windy resplendor/Never an average mind in winter." On the other end of the spectrum is the gravel-deep voice of Alvarius B, a charred wraith singing the same song but imbuing it with a troubled, sinister quality, as if he were near death and it were his final manifesto. This split album will tempt you into sin, then wash it from your soul. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

IMMORTAL LEE COUNTY KILLERS II

Love Is a Charm of Powerful Trouble

(Estrus)

****
The Immortal Lee County Killers II sound wild and desperate, whether they're careening into their darkest emotions at a deafening whimper or a delicate whisper. Their rougher tracks ramble and stumble like a drunk on his way to fight the man who's dared to steal his woman, all dirty and badass and dangerous; frontman Chetley "El Cheetah" Weise adds extra-heavy distortion to his custom-made guitar, sliding down its neck and punching out the next blast of noise with a heartily pained howl. At his side is drummer J.R.R. Token, pounding on the traps like all the good china's about to come crashing off the shelves. Together they make the blues as messy as the emotions surrounding the music, but on this second release, they sober up for a couple of songs, getting downright mournful on the Charles Tindley spiritual "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?" and acoustic on "Truth Through Sound," an original accented by slight shakes of a tambourine. New material blends easily with covers (of material by greats like Willie Dixon) and traditionals (like "Don't Nothing Hurt Me Like My Back and My Side"), showing the duo is still proficient at presenting broken hearts, soul pains, and body aches with the same reverence they show for the original songwriters who shouldered these burdens. JENNIFER MAERZ

**** carrot cake *** carrot juice ** carrot soup * Carrot Top