Cultivators Mama's Kitchen

Alt-country warnings aside, this is a diamond in the rough that proffers a band enlisting the earnest passion of Blue Mountain, the heartfelt invention of the Jayhawks, the commercial savvy of Wilco and, at times, the power pop of a muted Tommy Keene. In fact, the material contained here makes any worthwhile categorisation impossible, as it embraces such diversities as roots-country, folk-pop and heartland rock. Its only weakness lies in the haphazard vocals of its brainchild Dan Israel, unless you find his slightly wearied, dispirited voice endearing. What is undeniable is the superb quality of the songs and the calibre of the playing. Each song is well crafted, laced with hooks and showcasing any number of excellent soloists. Tom Sampson's lead guitar work ties the band together, as Gary Louris does with the Jayhawks. Seamlessly. Jeff Victor guesting Hammond performances further glue each track together. Outstanding tracks include "Happy Again," which recalls the high art of the Ronnie Wood/Pete Townshend Rough Mix collaboration. The title track relies on a laid-back, gentle flow that takes no prisoners, gradually building to epic proportions. "Behind The Curtain" leans on a subtle B-3 contribution that lifts its simple, delicate construction to a higher plane. "Stranger Things" closes the set with a lilting gem, boasting outstanding background vocal contributions from Kristin Mooney (Peter Himmelman). The balance of the disc tends toward harder rocking territory, but the band's various textures come through best in the quieter moments. All in all, a tempting and enticing presentation that percolates with potential. Israel has a writing and arranging gift and the smarts to immerse himself amongst players with the ability to showcase each song in its best possible light. Onwards and upwards. (Hayden's Ferry)