David Lowery The Palace Guards

A debut solo album from Lowery has been a long time coming. He found indie rock notoriety in the '90s as leader of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven (both remain active) and then as an in-demand producer. He's not reinventing the wheel here, and Cracker's signature is all over "Baby All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me." Lowery's backed by musician friends who are part of the circle at his Sound of Music studios, and their empathy is audible. Their instrumental versatility neatly matches their leader's usual stylistic eclecticism. His laconic, yet acerbic, voice is in fine form, and is a nice antidote to the earnest, histrionic approach of too many younger roots-rockers. He remains one of the most intriguing lyricists around, throwing in plenty of historical and geo-political references alongside lines like, "we were on a fast train to a drunk equilibrium" (from "Deep Oblivion," a psychedelic highlight). The gentle lilt of "I Sold the Arabs the Moon" makes it a winner, while the closing two tracks (the haunting "Big Life," featuring keyboards from the late Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse, and "Submarine") are also bona fide gems. This is a more consistently strong effort than the last couple of Cracker records. (429)