This is a great way to get heavy metal heads interested in classical music. It could also break up your marriage or get you evicted from your apartment. The recording quality is -- well, smashing. Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic prove themselves masters of rhythmic volume and unsubtlety, just what this program calls for.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Greg Garing
(Paladin/Revolution Records)

With mainstream country music little more than refried Eagles and the "Americana" alt-country scene a plate of old Flying Burrito Brothers crumbs, there's not much out there for country connoisseurs that's innovative. But just when you think there's nothing new in country's cornpatch, up pops a sound at once fresh and familiar, a new and tasty take on time-honored treats. Like Alone, the debut CD from Greg Garing. He's a former Nashville retro-tonker who relocated to New York and figured out a way to hog-tie trip-hop technotica and wrap it around kinda-country songs. The results, for the most part, are guaranteed double takes. They make for a stylistic shotgun wedding of studio trickery and down-home tradition that works in wonderfully unexpected ways.

The surprises start from the get-go with the opening cut, "My Love Is Real," an arresting slab of hip-hop hoodoo and gritty, swampy techno. The unlikely sonic alchemy is startling at first, but that off-kilter feel enhances Garing's pleading multitrack vocals as he wonders, "Why must you do the things/True lovers never do/Always aware of the pain that I feel." The sentiment, though hardly new, is made haunting by the eerie, sharp-edged backdrop.

His studio acrobatics are less convincing when his songwriting stalls. "How the Road Unwinds" comes off as a nervous, surfish rockabilly ride that doesn't quite get where it's headed. "Where the Bluegrass Grows," a well-intentioned tribute to the late Bill Monroe, finds Garing and bluegrass veteran Peter Rowan picking and squinting through so many skewed backwoods sounds it's impossible to hear a melody, much less keep the lineage straight.

Garing is far stronger when he sticks with his own vision. At his best, he rivals PJ Harvey in pounding out emotions that slice and dice at odd angles. "Don't cry baby .../Look beyond your sight/Trust in me, hopelessly," he sings on "Don't Cry Baby," allowing the verse to teeter between threat and request with an anxious ambiguity. On "Fallen Angel," his reedy voice sounds like a spooked-up Jimmie Rodgers, reeling off bittersweet couplets such as "Sometimes people change/Sometimes angels fall from the heavens." The song's jungly bluegrass and jagged beat make for a fitting finale, one that helps mark Alone as a gripping schematic of a wounded soul's dark pages.

-- Ted Simons

The Refreshments
The Bottle and Fresh Horses

While rumors of the demise of Tempe, Arizona's Gin Blossoms inch ever closer to fact, their miserable New Southwest experience soldiers on under the guise of the Refreshments. That the Blossoms and their sound-alike progeny share a hometown cannot be overemphasized. Every note-perfect jangle-riff and yearning, cry-in-yer-microbrew chorus on the Refreshments' sophomore effort seems cribbed from the Blossoms' Byrds-cum-Petty playbook. The sharp-dressed banditos did have the humility to thank the Blossoms in the CD liner notes. Why stop there? There's always songwriting credits.

-- Hobart Rowland

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