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Mars Arizona

All Over the Road – 2005 (Big Barn)

Reviewed by Andy Turner

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CDs by Mars Arizona

Mars Arizona is a San Francisco Bay Area-based duo featuring Paul Knowles, who says he grew up with "Dylan in my head, Woody Guthrie in my heart and John Lennon in my soul," and Nicole Storto, a tennis member of the San Diego State Hall of Fame who claims to have learned to play guitar on an old racquet. Just as interesting as Knowles' and Storto's musical beginnings is this highly enjoyable follow-up to the group's 2002 debut, "Love Songs From the Apocalypse."

The one-two punch of the title track and "Shadows on the Wall" open the album on a somewhat rockin' note, but for the most part, the rest of "All Over the Road" offers a more gently crafted touch, with harmony vocals, pretty country-folk guitar strumming and tales of scuffed up lives. On the aching "Streets of Milwaukee," a washed-up musician tries to "distance himself from the pain," while on "He Broke Your Heart," Knowles brings to mind Tom Petty and Paul Westerberg, on a tale of heartbreak complete with sad whistling. Knowles' and Storto's sweet harmonizing shines brightest on the gorgeous "Yesterday's Children." Not everything works, however. A spare, slowed downed take on Buck Owens' "Excuse Me, I Think I've Got Heartache," while delivered with honest emotion, sorely misses the Bakersfield swagger of the original. But covers of Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and especially Gillian Welch's "Elvis Presley Blues" come off better.

This is a non-flashy, smartly done effort well worth checking out.