This pairing of a nasally voiced indie rocker from the Northeast with a collection of New Orleans musicians has yielded a strange hybrid, like alienation finding a solid footing.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah singer, songwriter and guitarist Alec Ounsworth journeyed to the Crescent City with producer Steve Berlin, who assembled an all-star band of George Porter Jr. on bass, Stanton Moore on drums, Robert Walter on keys and Matt Sutton on baritone and pedal-steel guitars.
Mo Beauty may be missing the hooks and boundless enthusiasm that drove Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-titled debut, but after the weak follow-up Some Loud Thunder, this solo record is a welcome leap in a more ambitious direction.
At times rambunctious, Mo Beauty opens with the chunky junkyard stomp of "Modern Girl (... With Scissors)," perhaps showing some previously buried Tom Waits aspirations in Ounsworth's somewhat scattered musical vision.
Album closer "When You've No Eyes" has the swirling atmospheric sound that suggests the shimmering production that another New Orleans resident, Daniel Lanois, has lent to U2, Peter Gabriel and Emmylou Harris.
While this "solo" debut finds Ounsworth sounding comfortable and more accomplished as a singer-songwriter, the band is so excellent—flawless, really—that the album's only weak spots come from Ounsworth himself. It's almost enough to begin wondering if this tremendously skilled New Orleans crew could make a great-sounding record with practically anybody.