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The Old Town School presents two shows with Matthew Sweet and former Bangle Susanna Hoffs who’ve had a no-frills classic pop cover project together for a few years now. On their recent Under the Covers Vol. 2 (Shout Factory) they emphasize the strong melodies in a raft of songs from the 60s and 70s by the likes of the Raspberries, Big Star, Todd Rundgren, and Tom Petty, most of them hits. Atop nicely stripped-down but hard-rocking arrangements, they harmonize beautifully, rendering moot the hipness factor that makes some songs canonical treasures and others guilty pleasures—their voices are equal-opportunity instruments, making great hooks sound even better whether they were written by George Harrison or Yes. Their take on “I’ve Seen All Good People,” with guest guitarist Steve Howe, dispels the stench of prog-rock to celebrate the song’s indelible melody, and Hoffs brings an impressive rasp to the duo’s version of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae.” They don’t significantly recast any of the songs, and their act is basically a nostalgia trip—but you could do a lot worse trying to get that fix. Sweet and Hoffs are joined by Sweet's longtime bassist Paul Chastain.Black Mountain) deliver aching, narcotic love songs as Lightning Dust; the Cave Singers headline. On their terrific second album, Infinite Light (Jagjaguwar), Webber handles her parched, dusky voice with sedate restraint—a little like Cat Power’s Chan Marshall at her most introspective, except without the same expressive range. The modest songs tend to drift or crawl, their hypnotizing melodies drawing on influences spanning decades, but there are a few up-tempo numbers too—the manic, mechanical throb of “I Knew” sounds like a Suicide song sped up, and I half expected the propulsive conga-and-piano opening of “The Times” to lead into “Sympathy for the Devil.” When Wells duets with Webber on “Honest Man,” you might imagine for a moment that Nick Cave has crashed the party. Her vibrato is so overwrought that it often sounds like she’s singing on one of those old vibrating beds in a cheap motel, but despite the affectations in Lightning Dust’s music and its pretty obvious stylistic borrowing, the combination of elements manages to sound fresh.
Lightning Dust photo: Andy Bond
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Neil Young, Fork in the Road (Reprise)