Loren Dircks: Killing the Magic (Oranguitwang)

Loren Dircks knows how to keep listeners guessing. The singer-songwriter and wild-guitar tamer, who for years led Gila Bend, recently released a new solo CD on his own imprint, Oranguitwang. And the first two tracks on the album are enough to make longtime G-Bend fans wonder, if only briefly, whether Dircks has put aside twangin' blues metal.

For sure, Dircks is exploring other music influences—the album couldn't be more interesting, and at times, it approaches genius.

The opener, "More Than Life Itself," is a quasi-Tin Pan Alley love song complete with banjo and a Bacharach-style French horn. "You Run Like a Wild Horse," the second number, flirts with hip-hop rhythms and a wheedling Dr. Dre synthesizer motif.

Elsewhere is alt-country-tinged rock ("Still Called Today"), redneck R&B ("Stick With Me Girl") and the gorgeous "I Am," which balances guitar shredding with an engaging cow-pop melody. Through it all, Dircks plays almost every instrument, except for drums on a few tracks, some pedal steel and that French horn.

The album's centerpiece is "Guitar Hero Gone," an uproarious condemnation of the now-ubiquitous video game. Dircks indignantly rails against the crass and empty commercialism—of which that "virtual" game is a symptom—that has "killed the magic" of rock 'n' roll. The song gallops along at a snarling clip that brings to mind Blue Öyster Cult playing an old-time tent revival. When he sings that "spring-loaded button never had the feel / of hard wood, strings and steel," you can't help but proclaim, "Amen, Brother Loren!"