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by Carey Murphy and Teegan Menzer & r & & r & Tortoise & amp; Bonnie "Prince" Billy & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & The Brave and the Bold & lt;/a & 3 STARS & r & Cover albums seem ubiquitous these days. And the incestuous nature of such projects makes it difficult to know whose tongue is in whose cheek. The most recent project from '90s indie mainstay Tortoise and the prolific Will Oldham tests the boundaries of kitsch simply by making it difficult for the listener to tell how much genuine affection there is for these songs. I prefer to remain in the dark because I think the shiz-nit is dope.

The Brave and the Bold mines every decade from the '70s to the present, and some efforts seem effortless. Check Springsteen's "Thunder Road," re-envisioned as some Pink Floyd-ish set of synth-heavy histrionics. Or the Minutemen's "It's Expected I'm Gone," a feedback-friendly sludgefest. But Don Williams's "Poncho" is an unfathomable, sentimental weeper.

Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross" takes the cake. Beginning as layered funereal organs and pinpricked guitars, the tune grows slowly, a meditation in process. Oldham's voice occasionally falters, but it sounds perfectly intentional. Luckily, his perfection here is the cross we bear. -- Carey Murphy

The Earlies & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & These Were the Earlies & lt;/a & 3 1/2 STARS & r & These Were the Earlies is a combination of the band's first self-released singles and subsequent EPs. The band members currently reside in Europe and Texas (half the band is from Europe, half from the United States) combining their Pond-spanning musical talents and influences into something that reflects Polyphonic Spree, Mercury Rev, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

It's difficult to admit that I enjoyed this album (because I strongly dislike Polyphonic Spree), but it's still impressive -- not because of the band's diverse musical influences but because they successfully blend a wide variety of sounds such as piano, drums, horns, stringed instruments and layered vocals, creating a melodic, musical melting pot of sounds.

It's a hypnotic-psychedelic-electronica-country-esque combination of the band's influences. This may sound like the recipe for a disastrous album, but quite the contrary -- the Earlies have succeeded in creating an obscure but melodic and soothing album. These Are the Earlies is perfect background music. -- Tegan Menzer
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