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Theater Fire

Everybody Has a Dark Side

(Undeniable Records; US: 29 Aug 2006; UK: Available as import)

Old-time but not old-fashioned

An appealing mix of traditional and skewed modernity, Theater Fire slips lyrics about Darth Vader next to Civil War-era banjo lines and woozy New Orleans funeral brass alongside tangled blues guitar lines.  Old-time instruments—banjo, accordion, fiddle and harmonica—embellish the tunes with sepia shadows, but it’s the warm melodies and unexpectedly contemporary words that draw you in.  There’s sharp writing here in “My Razor’s Gone”, observing the links between borrowed shaving instruments and all kinds of compromise in shuffling asides like, “Nothing dulls a razor like a woman’s leg.”  “These Tears Could Rust a Train”, is another highlight, shivering with 78-worthy blues licks, swooning strings and lucid glockenspiel.  Two band members share songwriting and singing duties—Donald Feagin and Curtis Heath—and it’s hard to say which has the dark, echoey voice and which the lighter, country blues-inflected lilt.  Still the variety is pleasing.  “Kicking Up Darkness”, dark-toned and gothic, has the foreboding mystery of a Will Oldham cut.  And how could you not love the semi-title cut with its Victorian parlor string arrangements and startling 1970s-centric observation that “Even Darth Vader was a child/ And his anger made him wild/ And a light was lost inside”?  Serious yes, but self-important?  Never.

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