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The Dearhunters | Red Wine and Blue (Candle Records)
Some songs stop you dead in your tracks and Mr Katherine, the unlikely titled opener of Red Wine and Blue, is one such beast. It's a dream of a track, found somewhere among the airwaves where The Jayhawks, Joe Pernice and Evan Dando collide, a lush, harmony drenched lazy pop gem the resultant cocktail. And then Tim Oxley steps out of the spotlight to allow fellow vocalist Jodi Phillis to take centre stage on the beautiful Heads, Greg Hitchcock's slide guitar performing the pedal steel role perfectly atop a Maria McKee-lite epic. Delightful stuff and it doesn't end there: "Broke my overbite falling down / watched my teeth float up the gutter / and down the drain" begins All Over Now, another Oxley-led classic with the layered harmonies and dynamics of the best of Citizens' Utilities, five minutes of dream-inducing pleasure. Phillis weaves her magic again on Ivy, another perfectly judged ballad, harmonising with herself to stunning effect despite the rather soppy lyric (it's about a baby, leave this stuff to our Natalie). Which adds up to the finest EP ever, right? Well yes but this is a twelve track album and things do waver around the middle, but not before the layered harmonies of Ballerina (somewhat like the similarly experimental Everything Means Nothing To Me by Elliott Smith) and the Dennis Wilson-esque falsetto of Another Heart maintain the impeccable standards set by the opening quartet. Starling never quite takes off (sorry), the religious overtones of Far from the Grace seem out of place and the lyrics of Clothes lack conviction, despite a nice Calexico-drive. The album takes a major upturn at the end, the lilting That Kind of Love a countrified Juliana Hatfield-esque beauty and closer Alien Ship another Oxley/Phillis victory for the hooks'n'harmony school of songwriting. At its best, as it is for 75% of its duration, Red Wine and Blue is perfect.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000