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Buffalo Tom

The Buffalo Tom formula seems simple enough--equal parts big, open guitar chords played at high volume; husky, melodic vocals; bittersweet lyrics of love and loss--that it's surprising how many other so-called power-pop bands get it wrong.

Starting with their self-titled debut in 1989, the Boston power trio fashioned pitch-perfect rock songs that made you roll down the car windows, crank the stereo and speed home in time for an episode of My So-Called Life. Let Me Come Over remains one of the best "alternative" albums of the Nirvana era outside of, well, Nevermind, but after the commercial letdown of 1998's Smitten, the Tom took nearly nine years off before regrouping to manufacture Three Easy Pieces. In terms of quality, it's solid gold.

If you doubt it, bite down on tracks like "Good Girl," "September Shirt" and "Bottom of the Rain," each of which douses you in the fire of Bill Janovitz's ferocious guitar and raucous voice. The band has often had the phrase "blue-collar" attached to it, and the reason is because of the masculine, unpretentious attitude of the music. Even when bassist Chris Colbourn busts out a piano for the ballad "Pendleton," you don't get very much sentimentality--just pithy statements strung together in noir-like fashion.

It's not all black and white, though; there's vivid melancholy simmering in songs like "Hearts of Palm" ("Sunday Catholic morning aftershave / coffee grounds in the sink"), making Three Easy Pieces the Tom's best album to date. Given the overall quality of the band's discography, that's no mild accomplishment.

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