Kris Gruen Lullaby School

Kris Gruen’s theatrical, whispery-hoarse vocals (as well as his judicious use of glockenspiel) expose him right off the bat as a diligent student of the Sufjan Stevens school of art folk. Unlike Stevens’s markedly U.S.-obsessed lyrics, however, the son of famed rock photographer Bob Gruen (John Lennon: The New York Years) travels farther a field for his inspiration, from Baghdad marketplaces to the vineyards of Bordeaux. And although there are strong echoes of his numerous influences — from Stevens, to Jeff Buckley, to Iron & Wine, to Bright Eyes — he is no mere imitator, possessing a sound all his own as well as a collection of rare instruments (including a sitar as well as some mysterious, exotic-sounding device called a "marxophone”). His vaguely sardonic vocal stylings — which smack slightly of early Lou Reed, particularly on the opening track, "Tender Theory” — also add zest to an otherwise sweet and tender crop of songs. (Mother West)