In a genre of red clay dirt country and blue-collar blues, Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck cover it all. Leaving on a train? Yes. A chorus of "get along little doggy"? Yes. Drinking songs? God, yes. The trio really lets loose and unbuttons the pearl-snaps with their near a capella cover of the classic "In The Pines," which sounds modern enough to woo the O, Brother Where Art Thou crowd, while remaining authentic enough to please those who drink from jugs labeled XXX. While country standards like these have been done before, Nine Tracks is an overwhelmingly sweet and sincere record, just like sun-soaked Portland summers full of porch drinking and rabble rousing. EZRA ACE CARAEFF
THE BETA BAND
Heroes to Zeros
The last thing you want is for a band's only hit to become their albatross, a song the public won't shut up about until they write another smash. But such is the case with the Beta Band, who struck it rich in 1998 with The Three EPs' "Dry the Rain." Six years, one John Cusack mention, and two full-lengths later, the Beta Band can't seem to hit that same high, although their third full-length, Heroes to Zeros, does soar in places. In the band's trademark method, Heroes is a pastiche of styles, with hushed vocals and dreamy pop landscapes recalling acts like Gomez or the Stone Roses with a more schizophrenic beat; then, with the effects loaded on, suddenly they're almost as playful as the Flaming Lips. But the Beta vision moves beyond those benchmarks: Their expansive sound grows grander with the addition of pianos, string sections, or toy instruments, although without feeling like it's moving somewhere interesting. In the end, the band sounds too swallowed up by its own celestial, orchestral odysseys to plant itself in the firm ground alongside the public's diminishing fascination. JENNIFER MAERZ
I have all the respect in the world for a band that takes irony and runs with it to the point of actually pointing and laughing. Love the old-sounding new as much as you despise it? Do new Queen sounds, not quite ELOs, Cheap Trick pretenders, and messy wavers scratch an itch while at the same time causing the spread of a nasty rash? Then Los Angeles (via Detroit and San Francisco) band Hard Place is for you. Their self-titled debut sounds like the above-mentioned acts plus Sparks, XTC, and even some one-off guilty pleasures like, say, Nick Gilder. You might hate Hard Place for its no-holds barred ha-ha lyrics, but eventually you can't get way from giving yourself over to the rock anthems, hooks, and ass-kickers--and by ass-kickers I mean the kind delivered to the tender rumps of those who think old is new is still new. KATHLEEN WILSON
**** "Me For Mayor"
*** "Bringing Us Together"
** "Pick A Posey For Mayor"
* "Moving Forward Together"