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CD Review: The Black Swans

The Deal: Brooding, gorgeous set from Ohio-based band.

The Good: Navigating the same dark, melancholic seas as the Tindersticks or Dirty Three, these 12 tracks proceed with an unhurried grace well-suited to singer/songwriter Jerry DeCicca's contemplative narratives. Sepia is the color of the day here, the minor-key songs highlighted by the pleasing ebb and swell of Noel Sayre's surging violin loops and the guitarists' (DeCicca and Milan Karcic) shimmering textures. The classically-trained Sayre plays it more Warren Ellis than Andrew Bird, eschewing the staccato approach for long, elegant lines that seize your attention whether they're melodic accompaniment or soaring solos. Karcic and DeCicca lay down the foundation with just the right reverb level, using drawn-out arpeggios to fill the spaces. When those elements really coalesce, as they do on "Coats" and "Shake," for instance, the mix of additional subtle touches – piano, feathery female harmonies – makes for transcendent textures, and apropos settings for DeCicca's yearning tales of reconciliation for self and spirit.

The Bad: DeCicca is a disciple of Stuart Staples, and though he's got the hesitant phrasing down, he lacks the range of the Tindersticks' front man. Rather, he sings more like adenoidal Dylan or mannered Cohen, and that's the first hurdle newcomers must clear. The record's pacing could use a jolt or two, as well, if for no other reason than to set the dirges in even greater relief.

The Verdict: No sunny, top-down power pop here, instead the melodies are like lights in the dark providing succor.

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