The ex-Smith proves his greatness on a spiky live album
Country revivals, like those of psychedelia and the fortunes of Crystal Palace FC, come and go with such monotonous regularity that it's impossible to know whether it's currently in vogue or not ...
But change does come. Grandaddy and Scott 4, for instance, sound as much like the future as they do the old West, while Swell and Sparklehorse make those lonesome cowboy blues sound quite beautiful. And it's in those depths of sorrow that we find New York's Varnaline, not so much propping up another bar or lying amid empty bottles as facing up to the sober bleakness of life.
The air of resignation in Anders Parker's voice creates an all-pervading mood of sombre reflection and regret, only occasionally punctured by moments of hope. All of which might just add up to another dose of self-pitying miserablism but for a clutch of ghostly heartbreak ballads that envelope themselves in eerie atmospherics, allowing Parker's wispy falsetto to unburden his soul.
This spell doesn't last, though: echoes of Steve Earle creep into the understated bar-room blues and all those reservations resurface. 'Sweet Life' ultimately offers nothing new. That high plains scenery sure is pretty but this is merely a postcard reproduction of the real thing.
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