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Nels Cline Singers: Draw Breath

Nels Cline Singers: Draw Breath

Release Date:2007
Genre:Indie Rock

By Lee Gardner | Posted 9/5/2007

There are worse things for one's career than being a gateway drug for jazz-curious Wilco fans, but don't be duped by the folksy, pretty, downright rockish moments on Nels Cline's new album. For every atmospheric, acoustic stroll where it sounds like the guitarist is trying on Bill Frisell's comfortable shoes for size ("The Angel of Angels"), there's something like the 16 sprawling minutes of Euro-style free improv, Sonny Sharrock meltdown, Stravinskian metal trudge, and twittering electronic loops that is "An Evening at Pops'." And if you're looking to single out any particular influence on Cline's new Nonesuch-friendly moments, don't interrogate Jeff Tweedy. The man you're looking for, most likely, has been sitting right behind Cline all along: Singers drummer Scott Amendola.

Amendola is not only one-third of Cline's power trio (with acoustic bassist Devin Hoff), he's his labelmate at Cryptogramophone and a bandleader in his own right. Last year Amendola broke out--among omnivorous jazz nerds, anyway--with Believe, an album of remarkably clear-minded, embraceable performances, several of which sounded a bit like Neil Young lashing Crazy Horse until it approximated a jazz quartet. Cline played on Believe, and it sounds as if he decided to re-create that album's approachable spirit for parts of Draw Breath. The opening "Caved-In Heart Blues" layers a descending acoustic-guitar melody and keening electric solo over Hoff's funereal throb for a last-train-done-gone vibe. Meanwhile, the outgoing power-chord bounce "Confection" sounds a bit like Sonic Youth doing a kids' show theme.

Cline's music has never failed to dare, and rarely fails to dazzle, but the individual cuts that make up Draw Breath don't compel much as an album. While "The Angel of Angels" is ultimately too static and underdeveloped to hold interest past its initial purty-ness, the contrast between such songly tracks and stuff like "An Evening at Pops'" make Cline's usual middle ground--jagged, jazz-based, rock-fueled explorations such as "Attempted" and "Mixed Message"--sound a bit like wheel-spinning. In short, there's something here for everyone, but not quite enough to keep anyone but die-hards hanging around long.

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