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The Deliberate Strangers Ghostland Next Exit (Rattler Records, Rattler 005,, 2001)
If you're a little older like this writer, you remember the "original" alt-country music of the early-to-mid-1980s, when that subgenre of new wave music was known as "cowpunk." Los Angeles had some fantastic rootsy bands then, particularly X, Blood on the Saddle, Rank and File, and The Divine Horsemen. This latest release from Pittsburgh's Deliberate Strangers is very much in vein of that sound, combining the tear-shedding twang of country with goth-influenced hard-edged rock-n-roll.
This is one fantastic band, to say the least. They definitely have a handle on this type of sound. They have so much that makes them unique. For example, they possess THREE lead singers (plus some pleasingly haunting backup vocals from the fourth member). This has always been a plus with any band. While each voice is distinctive (guitarist Tom Moran reminds me of Chris D., drummer Jon Manning goes for the Hanky Panky-era The The, and bassist Stephanie Vargo sounds like Patsy Cline in a REALLY pissed-off mood). While each one is unique, they bounce off each other well as each new track plays.
The songs are so classic, they are timeless. If there wasn't any moral censorship during the 19th century, these cuts would have made Stephen Foster jealous. Lyrics are so memorable, they will make you smile and wag your head in disbelief at the same time (like Vargo's "Nothing But a Bitch" and Moran's "I rub tobacco juice into my eyes just to keep awake" from the song "That's What the Cowboys Did"). The stories are so meant for film noir-meets-CMT. Moran's "Heartland" is such a perfect sad story about young love gone psycho, complete with an innocent girl falling for a cold-blooded killer.
Musically, these cats are ON! Tight without a doubt, this band could easily do the soundtrack for the next Spaghetti Western flick coming out of Italy. Erin Hutter is an angel with an evil streak on violin and viola, and as mentioned previously, her background vocals work as a heavenly detour against the other members' grit and bitch. Add to that Manning's tasteful percussion work, as well as Moran's roots-rock influenced lead guitar lines (a la Blasters-era Dave Alvin or Chuck Berry with a touch of tequila) as well as his tremolo-drenched rhythm twangs. The only drawback is that the overall drum mix, which seems at times to receive poor EQ-ing and is too buried in much of the CD.
In short, get this CD. The Deliberate Strangers are so unique and enjoyable, one listen will drain the listener of so much emotion that a shot of rockgut whiskey could probably be the only cure. (Matt Merta, 10/2001)