Acoustic Junction

Strange Days (Omad)

Listening to the shimmering title track of this new platter, you might imagine you've happened upon a lost track from the Counting Crows' vault, with the same rich, rootsy melodies and layered production. Listen a few more times, though, and it will dawn on you that this is a helluva lot better than Counting Crows: More organic, less willing to bend toward the pithy mandates of pop.

Acoustic Junction is, roughly speaking, a quartet, anchored by lead vocalist and primary songwriter Reed Foehl, whose voice has the, uh, reedy quality of a young George Harrison. Tom Diehl (drums), Curtis Thompson (bass), and Tim Roper (organ) round out the troupe. But this disc features so many guest musicians -- and such a lush range of instrumentation -- that the basic lineup hardly matters. Among the instruments called into the fray: EBow, tremolo, Wurlitzer, mandolin, timpani, tac piano, accordion, and dulcimer. Had a kitchen sink been available, I'm sure someone would have played that.

The fare here roams from straightahead rockers to dreamy ballads. Roper's squalling harmonica work accents the bluesy thump of "Oh Me Oh My," while Adam Steinberg's fretwork fuels the plaintive lament of "Contender." An obvious Beatles influence shines through on gems such as "Long Way 'Til Tomorrow," which features the rising harmonies of a choir, while "Burden" opens with a flourish of orchestral strings. Legendary session man Kenny Aronoff punches up the rhythm section throughout, while Graham Nash croons backup vocals on "Dancin' For You."

What makes this disc so remarkable is that, despite its length -- 14 tracks, clocking in at 67 minutes -- there is never a lapse in quality. The music weaves a subtle spell, tugging the listener almost imperceptibly into that elusive space where the plangency of country and the raw energy of rock overlap.

 
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