Adlin and Appleford Disappoint on 'Jaundice Bitters'

Adlin and Appleford, Jaundice Bitters

Rich Adlin knows his way around an acoustic guitar, and Mark Appleford can shred through a harmonica solo. This duo is obviously well versed in the time-honored folk/blues tradition. And that may be what makes Jaundice Bitters a little too hard to swallow.

What is it about Americana that is so alluring and yet so elusive? What is that intangible ingredient that separates the wheat from the white bread? I honestly can not tell you, and I've mulled it over during the repeated spins I've put this CD through. What I can tell you is that Adlin and Appleford often times seem on the verge of discovering it; there are some genuinely good moments on Jaundice Bitters. The duo is at its best when not taking themselves too seriously, evidenced in the ditty "Bittersweet Blues," with its refrain "She fries a chicken that'll keep you comin' back for more," or in the bouncy "Shakespeare's Shuffle." And even the weaker cuts have moments of brilliance, like Joel Fairstein's (who also produced the album) beautiful piano sprinkles on the otherwise underwhelming "Idlewood."

But more often, Jaundice Bitters just misses the mark. There's "It's Time," a grooveless attempt at reggae. There's a meandering instrumental, and a bland, self-conscious confessional. And of course, there are enough masturbatory guitar and harmonica solos to wow blues enthusiasts and bore the hell out of everyone else.

Really, though, what it all comes down to is the heart. Adlin and Appleford sound like a couple of middle-class, thirty-something white guys with years of guitar lessons under their belts and Dylan songbooks under their arms. What should be the rally cry for the album, "Fire in Your Belly," lacks just that. I'm just not buying it, and it sounds like these guys aren't really sure what they're selling. But hey, here's hoping they keep plugging away at it, and carry on with the search for that distinctive element, if for no other reason than simply to spite a rough review in a free weekly rag.

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