Listening to first-rate alt. country band Used Carlotta is like watching a second-rate carnival on a small-town circuit: happiness is a put-on and self-mockery sneaks into the performance, but it is a carnival nonetheless. The Richmond, Va. band's second album, recorded without overdubs during one session, brims with a tension between lyric and music. Even when lead singer/songwriter Louis Ledford sings "Everything will be Fine," the listener doesn't believe it, and neither does he.Ledford's minimalist approach to singing grounds his lyrics of love, death and other inevitabilities, while the band rollicks around him. Zip Irvin's saxophone and clarinet playing adds dark humor to the songs, while John Skrobiszewski's fiddle is off-kilter, its tone pleasantly sour.
The gem is "Big Fat Moon," a number which, as the title implies, takes on the stifling, sappy role of the moon in love songs with the catchiness of an Old World folk tune. "Dead Girl Song," on the other hand, is the record's oddity; an inscrutable track about "the death of a small child," it mixes words of baldfaced sincerity with an upbeat mariachi refrain.
Used Carlotta manages to convey serious reflection and keen observation in their music, made all the more effective because they stop short of taking themselves too seriously. The album's only drawback is its only cover: "Nobody Knows But Me." Sure, the rendition is fine, but why is Jimmie Rodgers' name spelled wrong?! (P.O. Box 12196, Richmond, VA 23241)