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The Determined Luddites

If nothing else, the members of the Tucson-based acoustic folk band The Determined Luddites are sharp-eared students of music, as evidenced by the combination of bluegrass, Celtic, ragtime, Caribbean, Latin and blues music they play on their second CD, String Theory. But they also happen to play with some furious, high-octane chops.

I could go all Simon Cowell on the vocals, but deriding this charming recording would accomplish little. Suffice to say, the singing is agreeably homespun. The original songs by guitarist Dan Hostetler or mandolinist Dan Davis, however, generally are excellent, evoking a vivid sense of place, especially many locales specific to the Sonoran Desert. The breakdowns are among the most joyful heard 'round these parts in years. Mark Robertson-Tessi often can be found captaining the instrumentals on bouzouki or mandolin. Randi Pantera provides lively low end on stand-up bass. Arrangement-wise, these guitar- and mandolin-heavy songs could use some more fiddle or banjo here and there.

Among my favorite tracks are the jazzy "Kitchen Dance," the satiric "Better Git Right (With Jesus)," the haunted, Pogues-inspired torch song "All Souls Day/Wee Rabbit," the Latin-grooving instrumental "La Biela" and the old-timey waltz "Raise High the Roofbeams."

The band's name refers to the monkey-wrenching activism of anti-factory woolen-mill workers of the early 19th century, as related in Davis' seven-minute epic "The Ballad of Ned Ludd," a rambling and wordy, though engaging, tale. This is immensely appropriate for an acoustic band in this age of samplers and synthesizers.

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