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CD reviews: Wooden Birds, Matt the Electrician, Joe Ely

Peter Mongillo

Three new records from artists connected to Austin:

The Wooden Birds

'Two Matchsticks'

(Barsuk)

In 2009, when former American Analog Set frontman Andrew Kenny released "Magnolia," the debut album from his new band, the Wooden Birds, the singer-songwriter moved in a more subdued direction than his previous work. That was quite a feat considering AmAnSet's reputation for exploring the depths of quiet. Acoustic guitar bodies replaced percussion and combined with Kenny's hushed vocals and craftsmanlike songwriting to create a surprisingly strong album. On the follow-up, "Two Matchsticks," the band livens up a bit, bringing some electric guitar into the mix while retaining the foreboding feel of the first record. Part of this might have to do with the lineup, which also has evolved. Original member Leslie Sisson, whose sweet-but-edgy vocals provide a great foil to Kenny, remains, and singer-songwriter Matt Pond, an indie star in his own right, joined the group. The result is a combination of dark folk and super-subtle rock, epitomized by the title track, which juxtaposes a restrained electric blues intro and chugging acoustic guitar riff with Kenny's warning "you're gonna burn out alone."

The Wooden Birds play at 5 p.m. Monday at Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd. waterloorecords.com.

Matt the Electrician

'Accidental Thief'

The opening song on Matt the Electrician's last record, "Animal Boy," was a cover of Journey's "Faithfully" translated to Matt's signature banjolele. It was sincere, sweet and just a tiny bit silly, and it set the tone for the rest of the album, which leaned toward the lighter side of life. On his latest, "Accidental Thief," we find a somewhat more serious Matt, despite bouncy family vacation/love song opener "All I Know." With a lot of relationship woes lurking elsewhere, it feels like a breakup album at times. On "I Will Do the Breathing," Matt acts as a pillar for a broken lover. At other moments, including the title track, he beats himself up as he sings, "I am no good for anybody, I am a cautionary tale." On "Crying," he publicly mourns a relationship gone bad. Here, with the chorus "I'm the town crier, and I can't stop crying for you," (followed by a whistle solo) the material comes dangerously close to sappy, but Mr. Electrician's songwriting skills are strong enough to navigate the dangerous world of emotional relationship tales. Like a seasoned storyteller, he maximizes the power of his words by carefully choosing which notes to accent and which to leave alone.

Matt the Electrician plays at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd. waterloorecords.com, and a sold-out CD release show Saturday at Wyldwood Shows (www.wyldwoodshows.com).

Joe Ely

'Satisfied at Last'

(Rack 'Em)

The title of Joe Ely's latest might be a little misleading. Despite the message of the album's title track, things don't seem terribly settled. "Not That Much Has Changed" initially comes across as a laid-back reflection on life, with observations on the blueness of the sky and horses in the fields.

Tucked in there toward the end, though, is a line about weeds growing on his ex's lawn, and another about sending people off to die in war and the toll that takes on the survivors.

Then there's opener "The Highway Is My Home," in which Ely tells a pretty typical country rock tune about a lovelorn rambler. It's stormy fare with a dark groove courtesy of keyboardist/bassist Joel Guzman and drummer Pat Manske, and it feels more rebellious than satisfied.

And on the Billy Joe Shaver-penned "I'm Gonna Live Forever," a song that has been around for a while and sounds closer to Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" than the story of a man at rest, a touch of rebellion and cynicism is more interesting than satisfaction.