On Eric Bachmann's third release as Crooked Fingers, Red Devil Dawn (Merge), the former Archers of Loaf front man abandons the morose, creaky feel of earlier efforts for a baroque 60s-pop sound marked by warm violin, cello, and trumpets: the fanfare on "You Threw a Spark" recalls Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," while "Sweet Marie" is driven by a sweep of romantic strings. This is easily the most lush music Bachmann has ever recorded, and the overall effect is lightly melancholy. Even on the songs that hark back to the sparer Fingers style--"Carrion Doves," "Don't Say a Word," and "Bad Man Coming"--Bachmann's voice, which has sounded shot to hell since the last couple Archers albums, gains some sweetness. But something is lost as well. Bachmann's songs for Crooked Fingers have always sounded more like character sketches than like bouts of self-expression; until now, though, he seemed to identify enough with his wayward drunks and uncertain souls to get under their skins. The album's honeyed sound makes the southern-gothic tales feel less enacted than narrated. But Bachmann's always been a resourceful showman, so it should be interesting to see how he renders the new material onstage. Thursday, March 6, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.