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No Kinder Room – 1996 (HighTone)

Reviewed by Bill Sacks

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CDs by Wagon

Of all the new bands signing record contracts in Uncle Tupelo's wake, Wagon seems most earnestly devoted transforming that group's idiosyncrasies into stylistic signatures. This is twice unfortunate: first, Ben Davis and Len Small banter their way through these 14 originals, basking in tunelessness absurd in contrast with their band's formidable instrumental abilities. (If Wagon had even one vocalist half as pleasing to the ear as Chris Peterson's fiddle work, they'd be a singular phenomenon.) Second, this repeatedly suffers from what is fast becoming a shopworn lyrical conceit: a third of these tunes are addressed to an amorphous "you" whose life has little color or resonance. This flaw is compounded by another kind of obscurantism, where a few proper names merely prop up lyrics otherwise lacking characterization.

A few exceptions suggest Wagon may have a future. The title track, with its intimations of lost love and lilting interplay of fiddle and Hammond organ, is the most musical vocal performance. "Crumble" offers humility as a peculiar romantic virtue. "Wishful Thinking," a tightly crafted complaint against self-indulgent confessional songwriting, could turn into this band's epitaph. By refusing solipsism, Wagon have gone one step further by revealing as little about their songs' subjects as possible, threatening to relegate their talents to the margin.