Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere
Eskimo Hair (Apeville)
Very little of the ferocious energy that fueled Smokin' Dave and the Premo Dopes can be found on Eskimo Hair, which might be Todd Steed's most laid-back album, if you don't count the 2005 disc of ambient music, Music for Bus Stations.
It's also his most accomplished. Steed opts for a quiet, reflective tone on much of the disc—"Agnostic's Prayer" and "Temple, Ga." are among the most gentle songs he's ever recorded—and the peppier numbers, like "Preservation Roof" and "The French Girl and a Redneck" draw from jazz and cabaret. Much of Eskimo Hair's ruminative mood comes from the sense of place that dominates the disc. Several songs are about specific places ("Zverynas," about a neighborhood in Vilnius, Lithuania, "Stuck in Asia," "Highway 78"), others about getting there (the Zappa-influenced "Movement").
Beyond the sophistication of the songs, Eskimo Hair (named after a barber shop in Beijing) just plain sounds great: the Suns of Phere have developed into a swinging little combo, and they're helped out by a cast of Knoxville all-stars. (It's also worth mentioning that it looks great—the digipak decorated with travel photos is one of the most carefully packaged self-released CDs ever produced in Knoxville.)