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Luca

Nick Luca is primarily known as the resident wiz-kid engineer at Tucson's WaveLab Studio. As leader of his band, Luca, it seems he only recently found his own voice, with last year's Sick of Love, and his new release, Fractions--ironically, after handing over the studio reins to another producer and engineering team.

Luca kicks off Fractions on an upbeat note, with the revved-up, tambourine-happy Jackson Browne throwback "Damned," and "One Way Ticket Home," a honky-tonk take on the oft-lifted "American Girl" riff. "Pretty Mama," which repeats those two words a maddening number of times, is a sax-driven, white-trash tribute that leads into "Bitten," the track that most brings to mind Calexico. That's not surprising, considering the presence of vibes, hauntingly plucked piano wires and a jazzy trumpet cameo from Calexico's Jacob Valenzuela.

Luca gives a loose alt-country treatment to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" (or, as it appears here, "... Wildside"), something I'd first seen him play this summer with Calexico at the TapeOp Con festival. He also finally puts his disco-y, Talking Heads-like cover of Jonathan Richman's "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," a longtime live Luca staple, on disc.

Most impressive are the more serious, piano-driven tracks like "Fires Burning" and "Was It a Dream," which contains possibly the best hook Luca's ever written. If he keeps it up, Luca's studio gig may have to take a backseat to a budding band career.

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