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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

HIGH NOTES

NEW RELEASE

Califone's "Quicksand/Cradlesnakes"


'Don't give it a name," Tim Rutili croaks on "Michigan Girls," the third cut on the new album by Califone. Rutili could be talking about the band's sound, which is like the blues but isn't; which feels like the kind of country rock that the Stones and Fleetwood Mac dabbled in in the '70s, but not exactly.

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Formerly the creative kernel of Red Red Meat, the Chicago band that always seemed to be on the verge of actually doing something interesting with '70s blues-rock, Rutili spent the mid-'90s fooling around with computers. When he released the first Califone EP in 1998, some people thought it was just a new RRM record, since the personnel were basically the same. The music was similar, too: acoustic and electric blues steeped in a variety of atmospheric effects and augmented by Ben Massarella's unique take on percussion (plastic straws in cups of ice, that sort of thing). What was different was that the two ostensibly disparate musical approaches didn't sound so disparate any more. Red Red Meat had always come across as more experimental than musical; the Califone EP sounded organic.

Five years later, Rutili and Massarella, joined by some new faces, release their second long-player, "Quicksand/Cradlesnakes," which finds Califone embracing a broader spectrum of roots music, including bluegrass and rockabilly, not to mention a fuller complement of real instruments (cello, sax, banjo), while at the same time expanding their sonic palette electronically. Like Wilco, Califone can write clear-eyed pop ("Vampiring Again"), and like Royal Trux they can get down and dirty ("Your Golden Ass"). As proven on such songs as the mind-bending "Slower Twin" and "Horoscopic.Amputation.Honey," a folk-rock epic that seems to float out of the unconscious, they're also conversant in the post-rock aesthetic that's made the Chicago underground a genre unto itself. There's a name for what Califone does -- it just hasn't been coined yet.



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