The Lonetones Take Flight on Canaries

The Lonetones' new CD, Canaries, marks an evolution in the music of the locally well-known string band. Steph Gunnoe, who wrote most of the songs on the album, has an unusual baby-doll singing voice, something like a soprano proving she can sing falsetto as well as any guy. Its overt innocence sometimes seems to conceal some deeper melancholy beneath the surface, a singing through trauma. Making sense of her lyrics may require a few more listens; for now it works to think of her voice as a soprano sax, enjoyable as instrumental jazz. It's disarming, beguiling, sometimes hypnotic, though it flies within a narrow range. That limitation, combined with the persistent freight-train rhythms of the percussion which urges most of the tunes along, can make some of the cuts sound like new stanzas for the same long song. Hardly a complaint for those of us who are suckers for it, and there are exceptions. The maybe too-handy word "Appalachian" has been applied to their music, befitting of Sean McCullough's mandolin, maybe, but Lissa McLeod's accordion pops up here and there, and crypto-jazzman Phil Pollard chips in some vibraphone on several cuts; other cuts also feature surprising electronic sound effects. The title track, maybe the most habit-forming of the songs, opens with broadcast distortion a la "Mexican Radio." "Blue Vinyl (turns my baby on)," a Sean McCullough contribution, stands apart with a systemic minimalism of overlaid instrumentation (McCullough plays piano on that one, with Pollard on vibes, but there's more) that sounds like a flight in the direction of alt-rock credibility.