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CD Review: Time Sawyer's Disguise the Limits 

Independent; Release date: March 1, 2014

The "Sawyer" in Time Sawyer's name harkens to the rustic, rocking alt-folk outfit's origins in the bluegrass-haunted Yadkin Valley. "Time" nods to all music's tether to the metronome, and the notion that memories can turn so tangible that they seem present. Disguise the Limits examines how self-image can misdirect and blindside our lives. The LP's title points to themes highlighted on the soulful, rolling, Neil Young's Harvest-style hymn "Paradise" and the road-weary, ghost-of-Gram Parsons ballad "West From the Farm" — namely, that roles are masks that can hamper us forever.

It's an organic, resonant message delivered by songwriters Sam Taylor (vocals) and Kurt Layell (guitar). Yet, the band name and LP title risk being overly didactic, telling us what the songs mean before they are heard. Such a pedagogical approach risks raising a barrier between listener and discovery.

That would be a pity. The tunes glide on Taylor's smooth everyman vocals, which evoke James Taylor's liquid yearning and Justin Townes Earle's ravaged grain, turning as sardonic as Warren Zevon or as open-hearted as Rodney Crowell. On blow-this-pop-stand album closer "Tired of this Tired," both vocal approaches corkscrew and entwine over surging horns, banjo filigree and delicate, finger-picked guitar.

The primarily acoustic playing, whether on the stomping, Waterboys-tinged hoe-down "A Far Away Farewell from Rose" or the knotty, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-styled country rocker "210" is smooth yet passionate. Washes of pedal steel color the 'shine-running country blues shuffle "Appalachian Bound" and the remorseful, time- and place-specific yet mythic "It's Over." Too-clever band name and LP title aside, Time Sawyer's Disguise the Limits is mature and masterful. Conjoining reverie, regret and heartbeat, the Elkin, N.C., combo has crafted its finest album to date.

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