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CD Review: Water Liars' Phantom Limb 

In Flannery O'Connor's short story, "The Life You Save May be Your Own," a drifter tries to B.S. and bedazzle an old woman: "'Lady... There's one of these doctors in Atlanta that's taken a knife and cut the human heart — the human heart... out of a man's chest and held it in his hand... and lady... he don't know no more about it than you or me."

The mysteries of the heart and the black absurdity of O'Connor's Christ-haunted South are never deep below the surface on Water Liars debut disc, Phantom Limb. Former Theodore frontman Justin Kinkel-Schuster and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bryant are a literate duo out of St. Louis, Mo., taking their name from Mississippi writer Barry Hannah's best known short story. Literary pilfering extends to the wearily plaintive country rocker "It is Well with My Soul," which opens with the Dorothy Parker quote, "What Fresh Hell is This?" before turning weirdly hymnal with found-sound biblical passages and searing feedback.

Phantom Limb is a potent brew of blood-on-the barroom-floor country rock with soaring, keening vocals and squalling grunge highlights. Sonic forebears are The Band circa Stage Fright and Neil Young coming "out of the blue and into the black." Dry-eyed, resigned ruminations on life's betrayals turn strangely transcendent on cuts like "Short Hair," a driving honky-tonk rocker about the world getting you by the short and curlies.

With "On The Day," Kinkel-Schuster ruminates on his final moments. Part ghostly reverie, part grounded apology, the song shifts into a white noise tone poem, the aural equivalent of going into the light. It's melancholy yet uplifting, a snapshot of the human heart in conflict with itself even as it beats its last.

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