Centralia, Norfolk & Western's second full-length album, is constructed like a gift, wrapped meticulously in butcher paper and handed over without pretense. The combination of nostalgia-invoking instruments (lap steel, acoustic guitar, harmonica) and careful background noise (wind or static sounds) is slightly bittersweet, in a way that can make your heart drop to your stomach. Vocalist Adam Selzer's quiet voice is gorgeous; each audible breath and consonant suggests an understanding of the power of simplicity. Some songs sound as if they're rolling out of a dusty Victrola, played on the back of a train after the Dust Bowl. Really, this album is beautifully crafted, written so thoughtfully, it's like a very sweet gift best kept in your hope chest. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

Excuses for Travellers

Mojave 3 is one of those bands I discovered via a compilation tape. I'd never been a fan of Slowdive, the group they'd spun out of, so I'd paid no attention when their record was released. But then my friend Christopher put "Love Songs on the Radio" on a cassette for me, and I fell in love. Unfortunately, the band's debut didn't quite live up to that song, and the follow-up was exceedingly dull. Excuses for Travellers, their third disc, starts out fine enough. The piano-led "In Love with a View" is a nice little country rock song. With each successive track, however, the stakes drop. I blame bandleader Neil Halstead. He didn't sing the song that initially turned my crank--Rachel Goswell did. Her voice can break your heart like an egg, while Neil's couldn't break a sweat in the actual Mojave. Neil gives Rachel about one song per album. In comparison, everything else is like listening to the Cowboy Junkies sung by your granddad: Old, slow, and totally unsexy. JAMIE S. RICH

Soul Fishin'
(Self Released)

The world of Mad Hattie is filled with cupids, goldfish, kings in castles, and leaky rain gutters. It is a world that is at once simple and complicated; like that of a precocious child, where the words and expressions are simple, but the emotions that they represent are not. The title song uses the metaphor of dropping a hook and sinker in a fishbowl for the idea of yearning for a new soul. With acoustic guitars and straightforward banjo picking, the songs' formats are not exploring any new frontiers. At their weakest, they harmonize like a rip-off Peter, Paul, & Mary. But Dee Settlemier's rich voice--deep and twangy; think Mama Cass' "Dream A Little Dream"--provides an enchanting entrèe. PHIL BUSSE