May 27, 2004

Bruces "The Shining Path"

Jeff Tweedy's ascention to the role of innovative role model was quite a surprise. Of course, one could get into the debate whether or not Wilco's success with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was nothing more than a deft sleight-of-hand by an excellent publicist, but we really shouldn't spend too much time on this subject. The point is, Tweedy's all of a sudden the brilliant mind that everyone wants to imitate and journalists like to reference when listening to moody, atmospheric alt-country (whatever that is) records.

Alex McManus is also an extremely talented musician, but he doesn't have the hype machine telling the world that he's a talented musician. When he isn't working with Lambchop or his other band Empire State, McManus quietly releases wonderful records under the moniker The Bruces. While McManus does sound a little bit like Jeff Tweedy, the comparisons really should stop there, because McManus was a talented musician before the world knew about him. I feel as if McManus is most content just sitting around his living room with his guitar and his tape machine.

Like his other projects, The Shining Path is nothing but mellow country-rock, tempered with a good portion of atmosphere. Occasionaly this combination makes some dramatic, haunting songs like "The Electronic Halo," but for the most part, the album is never anything more than lush and dreamy. Throw in gentle touches like a banjo here and trombone there, and you'll soon notice that the album has a quiet depth that never overwhelms you. Though McManus isn't the strongest vocalist, his rough, limited vocal range serves the songs quite well, and he does quite well with what he has. Songs like "Fine Solutions" and "Beautiful Slanted Northern Light" are all quite moving, thanks in part to his rugged yet gentle voice.

The Shining Path isn't a record that's trying to impress you, but in so doing, it will leave a nice impression on you because it's just so...unassuming. The Shining Path is low-key and subtle, and that's just fine with me. If you're tired of hearing about records that are all hype and no substance, then this little record offers you a warm, gentle reminder that there are artists who create music simply because they like to make music. Gee, who knew?

--Joseph Kyle

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