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The Best Under-the-Radar Rock of 2009, Part Four

Matt Keating - Between Customers 
Keating's follow up to 2007's astonishing double disc opus Quixotic is another revelation, a collection of richly affecting songs, ranging from the heartbreaking "Louisiana, a passionate paean to the victims of Katrina, to "Better Than That," a plaintive ballad that sounds like one of Neil Young's better outtakes.  

Amy Allison - Sheffield Streets 
Allison may be the daughter of distinguished jazz musician Mose Allison, but with her honeysuckle vocals and patchouli song style, the two are as far apart stylistically as Ravi Shankar and his daughter, Norah Jones are in theirs. Allison has vampish instincts but also harbors a playful homegrown sensibility that imbues an added charm in her sweet, folksy sensibilities. 

Kim Virant - Songs From a Small House 
Her best album yet, Songs From a Small House may profess to originate from humble auspices, but regardless, it aims for major league acceptance. Virant proves to be a superb songwriter and her voice exudes an air of supreme, unabashed confidence.  Given her sultry, emphatic delivery - imagine an equally assured Natalie Merchant - it's a poise that's decidedly justified.

Howard Eliott Payne - Bright Light Ballads 
having failed to achieve attention with her former band, the Stands, singer Howard Eliott Payne trades the group's anthemic stance for a rugged, folk-like ramble that's equally insistent but more attuned to rustic traditions akin to Dylan, McGuinn, Gram and Emmylou.  These Bright Light Ballads make for a shining debut.

Jason Crigler - The Music of Jason Crigler 
Crigler's story equates to an incredible odyssey - stricken with a heart attack onstage, he not only struggled to survive but to return to making music as well. The results, as recorded in an amazing video documentary and this simply titled comeback, shows him capable of crafting iridescent pop songs that are surprising buoyant and bubbly, doing so with a resilience and flourish that's nothing short of captivating.

Mike Gent - The Name of This Record is Mike Gent 
Gent, a member of the New England rowdy rock ensemble The Figgs - a combo that also doubles as Graham Parker's backing band - takes a modest, low-gazing pop approach that sometimes sounds like the Faces in a more humble stance.

Daddy - For a Second Time 
The latest collaboration between roots rockers Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack reflects the strength of each man's seasoned pedigrees via a set of songs boasting a loose swagger and retro references. Pardon the pun, but Daddy create one mother of a sassy, swampy extravaganza. 

The Fire Marshals of Bethlehem -The World from the Back Seat 
Don't try to decipher their moniker.  The Fire Marshals of Bethlehem hail from Austin, and instead of opting for anything incendiary, they choose instead a communal sound with the flawless congeniality of '70s prime Fleetwood Mac.

Molina and Johnson - S/T 
Veterans of the Centromatic-Magnolia Electric-South San Gabriel collective cartel, Molina and Johnson create a haunting concoction that's alternately strange, subdued, ethereal and atmospheric.  Though likely not to be to everybody's liking, this amorphous brew still leaves an indelible imprint.

Cliff Eberhardt - 500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions 
A journeyman folkie, Cliff Eberhardt possesses an itinerant soul and a humble delivery.  Nevertheless, his latest album creates a solid impression while affirming the precept that where solid musicianship is concerned, less is often more.  Though modest in certain measures, Eberhardt's homespun sound resonates with both urgency and authority.

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Lee Zimmerman

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