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Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers

World of Strangers – 2014 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers

After three albums and lots of touring in the U.S. and Europe, Zoe Muth uprooted herself from Seattle to Austin a few years ago. If this release is any indication, the change generally served Muth well.

A fresh sounding "Little Piece of History" kicks off the 10-song set, followed by the twangy most traditional sounding song on the disc, "Mama Needs a Margarita" with a bit of a crack in Muth's delivery.

Muth's vocals are far more charged on "Annabelle," but for a stretch, she is a bit too melancholy and too narrow in her vocal delivery, which pays homage to Emmylou Harris in tone (of course, she can't quite match the gorgeous beauty of Harris, but that's no criticism). A bit more range and intensity would have helped, but Muth increased the latter on the closing "What Did You Come Back Here For?" with organ and pedal steel fleshing out the sound.

For the first time, Muth played no role in production. She left that up to George Reiff, who keeps the traditional sounding country sound intact (though far less so than on her "Old Gold" EP from 2012), but he also was not afraid to add different types of instrumentation, such as the swirling sounds of "April Fool" with accordion, cello and pedal steel. Reiff incorporates a piano and spare drumming to kick off "Somebody I Know" without rushing it and Bruce Robison helping out on backing vocals. Acoustic guitar and more effusive drumming from Greg Nies provide more bite to "Taken All You Wanted." Geoff Queen's pedal steel adds a lot of color to the pretty sounding "Waltz of the Wayward Wind." Brad Rice's electric axe kicks off "Too Shiny," providing much needed bite.

As Muth shows more often than not, change can be good.