Scud Mountain Boys | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Scud Mountain Boys

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SCUD MOUNTAIN BOYS

Scud Mountain Boys make music that eludes categorization. The prolific foursome from Northampton, Massachusetts, released a pair of albums last year, and their third, Massachusetts, is due out in April from Sub Pop. They purvey a winsome, ornate, and seriously low-impact sound that incorporates elements of country, folk, and pop. Guitarist Joe Pernice's vocals are so gentle it seems as if he's trying to avoid detection. But his singing offers a deep reservoir of honeyed melodicism, a pervading ache drowned in sweetness. Unfortunately he tends to push this sweetness in the cloying direction of Elton John ballads. The lovely lap steel playing of Bruce Tull and occasional mandolin playing of drummer Tom Shea provide much of the band's country flavor. There is a soaring prettiness to the music that suggests a catatonic Jayhawks or Son Volt, but ultimately the similarities are cosmetic. While their songs revolve around familiar topics--relationships and doubt--they exude pathos and a general recklessness, subverting the music's calm beauty with queasiness. The biggest problem with the Scud Mountain Boys is that their obsession with prettiness blunts their music's edge; the songs are so damned gorgeous that after a while they seem to lack definition. But if you don't mind some shapeless beauty it's hard to go wrong. This is their Chicago debut. Thursday, February 8, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Toliver.

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