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Exene Cervenka: The Excitement of Maybe (Bloodshot) 

It's no longer a shock to anyone to hear Exene Cervenka, beatnik-punk royalty and veteran singer for X, performing Americana-tinged music, in-cluding here, on her second album for Bloodshot Records. She's been flirting with folk and other forms of roots music since the mid-1980s.

But those sly, peppery Memphis-style horns punctuating "Already in Love" and "I'll Admit It Now" are a surprise. They point to the fact that, at 55, Cervenka is renovating her sound with excellent results.

Then there's the unabashed pop melody and soulful swing of "Brand New Memory" and "Falling"; the spooky, lost-in-the-wilds mood of "Alone in Arizona"; and the psychedelic strings of "Half Past Forever." It doesn't hurt that she brought along longtime collaborator Dave Alvin on guitar, jazzman Christian McBride on bass, and labelmate Maggie Björklund on harmonies.

That's not to say that she's abandoned rootsier sounds. Listen to the lovely, haunting country noir of "I Wish It Would Stop Raining," etched with filigrees of pedal steel and fiddle. She ups the ante with the almost-traditional two-stepper "Turning With the World" and the gentle, piano-based shuffle "Dirty Snow." Throughout this mostly subdued album, Cervenka wraps her unique vocals, atypically fragile here, around songs about love—the weight of its loss and the unbearable lightness of its discovery.

The Excitement of Maybe marks the freshest work by Cervenka in decades.

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