Local Record Reviews 

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Blair Combest

Blair Combest

(Makeshift)

Singer-songwriter comes through the (studio) fire with a fine sophomore album.

Another casualty of the fire at Easley-McCain Recording Studios, it took singer-songwriter Blair Combest two years to finish his second album, this eponymous follow-up to his fine debut, Prettier Than Ugly. Recorded at Easley with Kevin Cubbins and Makeshift founder Brad Postlethwaite producing, Blair Combest is more of a group affair than the title might indicate, with Combest getting a hand from a host of local musicians, including members of Snowglobe and the Tennessee Boltsmokers and a group of friends on background vocals that Combest dubs the "Easley Tabernacle Choir."

This lends the record a musicality that broadens the palette of your standard rootsy singer-songwriter record, with Boltsmoker Andy Ratliff adding bluegrass accents to "Turn to Rain," Snowglobe's Nahshon Benford punctuating "Disarray" with trumpet, and the Phil Spector-esque finale of sleighbells and vocals on "Silly Girl."

Which isn't to say Combest himself isn't the main show here. Combest's slightly nasal ache and scratchy, older-than-his-years delivery can't help but evoke Bob Dylan, but it isn't just the voice: In its lyrical bent and musical lilt, Combest's music sounds quite like a very precise moment in Dylan's folkie period, post-protest songs, pre-electric. Think Another Side of Bob Dylan. At his best, Combest evokes a more modest, more consistently earnest version of that tone and sound, although there is also a spare, dusty undercurrent to this record (see, especially, "Wait for You") that's reminiscent of Texas alt-country pioneer Townes Van Zandt.

-- Chris Herrington

Grade: B+

Blair Combest CD-release party Saturday, April 8th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Door opens at 9 p.m.; cover is $5.

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The Service is Spectacular

The Secret Service

(Peabody)

If titles such as "Camaro" and "Workin' Too Hard" aren't proof enough, the aural signifiers are clear: the drummer counting it off at the top, blues-boogie guitar riffs cranked to 11, the bass player rumbling like a big rig down the interstate, vocals fueled by exaggerated swagger. These are the four corners of a world where mediocre '70s hard rock (think Bachman-Turner Overdrive) is given loving, confident reconstruction. At Neil's or the Stage Stop, this is rock-and-roll, frozen in amber. At the Hi-Tone Café or Young Avenue Deli, it's irony -- but with honest joy and without aftertaste. Of course, this only works with a band that has the chops and sensibility to pull it off, and this one does. Call it bedroom-mirror rock, and at 15 songs in 40 minutes, the invigorating blare and bluster never slow down. ("Don't Let It Eat Me Alive," "End of the Night," "Cold Sparkles") -- CH

Grade: A-

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A Century's Remains

Arma Secreta

(Rthmtc)

Two-man band Arma Secreta (Christopher Wark, formerly of Staynless, and Bradley Bean) debut with a blast of brittle, precise, agitated art-rock suffused with cryptic lyrics and a sound and style that bear a significant resemblance to their more anthemic scenemates Augustine. "Segue/Debris" appears to be about a man in his attic awaiting alien abduction. ("He's put his things in order/Everything is ready/He's left an explanation to the ones who don't get to go.") The album's most straightforward love song is given the not-so-straightforward title "Pyah!" But mostly, meaning is harder to pin down. Luckily, Arma Secreta seem to have a handle on the time-honored indie rock strategy: Pin an evocative suggestion ("Let's start again/Let's start together/Call all your friends/It's sweater weather") to an equally evocative guitar hook, and meaning takes care of itself. ("Turin Style," "Pyah!," "Sweater Weather") -- CH

Grade: B+

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