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J-200 | Trip From Grace (Loose Booty Records)
Stylish, punchy and beautifully produced (by Mark Hallman), 'Trip From Grace' is the second J-200 album, and presents yet another angle on alt.country - marrying, as it does, the sounds of early to mid '80's US college rock to a more obvious twang. The jangle of R.E.M is all over this 10-track, 34-minute collection of unspectacular, but pleasingly groovy rootsy pop, but it is the very loud echoes of 10,000 Maniacs that may cause some to draw knives. Singer Renee Giron's voice, you see, sounds a whole lot like that of Ms. N. Merchant. That's not a bad thing, as there's enough else about J-200's solid performances to persuade detractors, but it may hinder their progress in certain fickle markets; accusations of imitation or plagiarism sure to be levelled by some. But, this is a decent band with some okay songs, and 'Trip From Grace' should be investigated if only to wallow in its bitter and vulnerable lyrical misery of doomed and oppressive relationships. No track really hits home, but the gloomy ballad Caste Away and mould-breaking rockabilly workout Broke are impressively captured. And, considering that J-200 is a Chicagoan sextet, the sound they produce is unmistakably southern, as if the CD is manufactured from pulped kudzu. Unlike the Gibson guitar from which they take their name, 'Trip From Grace' will never be considered classic, but it is a shuffle forward from debut release 'The Dark', and bodes well for the next album - if they can shake off the Maniacs comparisons.