Rhythm & Views

Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter

The second salvo of minor-key radiance from Sykes & cohort finds them in a pensive, restive mood. This is unsurprising, given that Ms. Sykes is indie's heir apparent to the Lucinda Williams Throne of Melancholy, which Williams abdicated last year when she decided to become a dirty Bonnie Raitt.

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, Oh, My Girl is not it. Sykes has an artful propensity for devastating lyrics, delivered in her beautifully slurred half-drawl. The exquisite ache in her voice necessitates verses like, "Could you grow a new heart / And could you run the distance / In the time that it takes / Before it all fell apart?" on the album's closer, "Grow a New Heart."

Sykes' haunting singing is perfectly augmented by guitarist Phil Wandscher, who was arguably the real shining light in Whiskeytown, which he left after their second record. It's Wandscher's influence that will make Oh, My Girl an alt-country album in the minds of some, due to his twangy, echoed playing, which is suggestive of everyone from Chris Isaak ("The Dreaming Dead") to Neil Young. But that reductionist impulse should be resisted; Oh, My Girl occupies a different plane than simple "Americana." It's music noir, encompassing the dark and gorgeous sadness that comes with being human.

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