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The Bruces

The War of the Bruces


Alex McManus is the guy in the shadows, sitting quietly next to Vic Chestnutt and Simon Joyner, gaining the reputation as one of the most distinctive sidemen in a business that doesn't really value sidemen. When McManus added his fiddle to Simon Joyner's The Cowardly Traveler Takes His Toll, he added about a mile's worth of loneliness to the sullen folkies' confessions. When he picked guitar alongside Chestnutt, an Athens legend, it was like listening to two best friends telling stories in the garage over longnecks and cigarettes.

The Bruces is McManus playing sideman to McManus, and as much as you want to like this, it can be a forced listen. Forced in the sense that you really have to make a conscious effort to pay attention to what's going on. It's very pretty musically -- a soothing, rustic thing covered with a slight country residue (Mr. Chestnutt has indeed rubbed off on Alex) that frequently dips into dreamy feedback. But these aren't songs that you'd whistle after you got out of your car, let alone sing along to when you're in it. The lyrics don't stand out on first listen, and you'll eventually be forced to sit down and follow along with the lyrics book. In contrast, it's impossible to ignore Joyner's or Chestnutt's gloomy tales. Part of it is McManus' penchant for obscure metaphors ("All the eyes are flames" "Find your fears then make them lonely," eh?).

Ultimately, though, this War is worth the extra effort because of songs like the bouncy opener "DO SI DO," the subtle banjo plunker "Two Dogs," and the warm, sprawling "Mountain" -- among the best tunes I've heard this year. One part John Denver, one part Neil Young, "Mountain" starts off as a simple folky lullaby and turns into a brooding, fuzz-guitar dirge halfway through. Inspirational verse: "Sometimes a mirror is a mountain and I've gotta get over it / But then I get to the end and I still can't see shit."

This one may or may not grow on you, but for those who make the effort, McManus' dust-covered melodies are a road best taken.

back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Posted Sept. 22, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Rating: Yes

Obligatory pull-quote: "This one may or may not grow on you, but for those who make the effort, McManus' dust-covered melodies are a road best taken."