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Wednesday, 13 February 2008 00:00

Gems from the used bin

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By Chris Cooper

Ah, the joy of finding good stuff in the “undeservedly discarded disc” section of any music store. Here a few recent scores: pop melodrama from Bleu and a superb album from the most underappreciated — and one of the best, in my opinion — bands in the country.

Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love: Audible Sigh

Of all the happy coincidences that could occur while digging through the used bin, the classic “finding a copy of one of your favorite CD’s that you lost years ago” scenario is at the top of the list. VOL is one of those bands that, if you happened to be in the right place at just the right time and actually got to hear them, you were a fan of from that moment on. Hailing from the fertile Athens, Ga., scene, songwriter/guitarist Bill Mallonee and his ever changing band of players were as good as any of the other bands calling the town home — especially those that went on to find fame and fortune — but never quite had the “push” behind them to make them the darlings of the jangling “college” rock scene. Buddy Miller thinks Mallonee’s writing is on par with Dylan’s, and I’m not going to disagree.

Audible Sigh was the step between VOL’s rootsier early work and the pop glory of 2001’s Summershine. The acoustic guitar, harmonica and mandolin still play big roles in several tunes (check out “She Walks On Roses) but the crunch and feedback in the opener, “Goes Without Saying” indicated where things were headed. The dustbowl lament of “Resplendent” is easily one of Mallonee’s most powerful songs, aided here by the backup vocals of Emmylou Harris. And though many of the tunes seem to focus more on the grey clouds than any silver lining, you get the feeling that Mallonee was at least looking for something to help him keep his faith; even if the first line you hear him sing is “Failure, she’s a new found friend/You let her sleep on the floor.” Need some twang with a side of alt-country heartache? Cue up “Hard Luck and Heart Attack.” Did you like the first few Counting Crows albums? Got a soft spot for the Gin Blossoms? Get off your butt and go find this album.

Bleu: Redhead

Sometimes it hurts when one of your friends asks you, “What’s this crap you‘re listening to?” and then starts woo-wooing along with the singer and does a little sarcastic goofy dance to prove their point. Sometimes you just ignore them and reach for the volume knob.

And maybe I have a higher tolerance to bouncy rock/pop melodrama than some. Possibly it boils down to whether or not you REALLY liked the complete “over the topness” of Queen, whether your personal notions of the meaning of “pop” lean towards the prefab disposability of the term’s worst connotations and whether you can stand more than 30 seconds of any Morrisey tune.

It’s not that Bleu McAuley sounds like either of those artists (well, the Queen thing certainly does pop up in the guitar and vocal harmonies) but Redhead is an album that revels in the excesses of the “smart pop” genre — sometimes over-reaching but deserving of recognition for the effort. I’d first heard of Bleu while living in Boston, and had forgotten how much I enjoyed Redhead until recently seeing it again somewhere between Beastie Boys and Blue Oyster Cult in the used section.

The craft that went into creating tunes like “We’ll Do It All Again” and one of the better post break-up songs ever, “You Know, I Know, You Know” is undeniable. McAuley’s knack for creating little vignettes of the difficulties of finding comfort in one’s own skin and of the little disasters we all encounter in daily life is often remarkable. For the longest time I thought “Watchin’ You Sleep” was a sweet little lullaby styled love ballad — that is until I read the lyrics and realized the character telling the story was for the most part a creepy stalker type. As a whole Redhead is another of those albums that should’ve struck a chord on a larger level, but didn’t have the promotion it deserved. Extra points for having ex Jellyfish drummer/songwriter/singer extraordinaire Andy Sturmer and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson appear on a few tracks. And if those names mean something to you, you probably already have this album. If not, well ... happy hunting.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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