Short Cuts 

Local jazz fixture Kelley Hurt steps out with a fine solo debut.

Raindance

Kelley Hurt

(Archer Records)

If the last few years have proven anything in pop music, it's that traditional music like vocal jazz (Norah Jones) and bluegrass (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), which are usually considered niche genres, can have an awful lot of crossover appeal to adults who feel marginalized by youth-oriented music culture. Raindance, a vocal jazz debut by Memphis singer Kelley Hurt, is a record that clearly seeks to appeal across genre borders in the same way, its lead single a sultry, unlikely update of Rod Stewart's disco-era hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy."

Raindance was released this week on local imprint Archer Records, which boasts an impressive and varied stable of Memphis acts like the Gamble Brothers Band, Sid Selvidge, and Lily Afshar. It features Hurt backed by a jazz trio led by husband and pianist Chris Parker and includes bassist Jon Wires and drummer Renardo Ward.

But unlike Jones, Hurt doesn't take quite so easy a crossover path with Raindance. Where Jones sometimes sounds as much like Fleetwood Mac as she does like a jazz musician, Hurt's record clings a little closer to her genre roots, especially musically, where Parker's bop-oriented piano leads are more jarring (in the good way) than anything you'd hear from Jones.

Hurt's varied career has included a stint with a formative version of the North Mississippi Allstars (dating back to the band they grew out of, DDT), backup/session work with the likes of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Bruce Willis, and, lately, a string of performances fronting Parker's trio. Raindance confirms her considerable skills as an interpretive singer and her strong, smooth bell-like vocal instrument. But the album is also a forum for Hurt to step out as a songwriter, originals such as "I Can Come to You" and "The Art of Love and War" holding their own in the company of standards such as "Sweet Dreams of You" and "Our Day Will Come."

Produced by Ross Rice and recorded mostly at Ardent Studios, Raindance is a take-notice debut and likely to be one of the year's finest local releases.

-- Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

Kelley Hurt and the Chris Parker Trio will celebrate the release of Raindance Friday, October 10th, at the Capriccio CafÇ at The Peabody. Showtime is 5 p.m.

Terroir Blues

Jay Farrar

(Act/Resist Records)

From its first note, Terroir Blues unfolds like an elegantly wrought treasure map, rolled up and hidden for hundreds of years. Put the album on once or twice, and chances are good that you'll nod your head and tap your feet to tracks like "Hanging On to You" without fully deciphering the story Farrar has begun to tell. Listen carefully, and you'll begin to collect the clues. "You're gonna find pain/When you're out on the road," the former Uncle Tupelo frontman broods convincingly some 25 minutes into the disc.

Farrar prefers to travel mental rather than physical distances on this album. The hauntingly sparse "Cahokian" reveals ancient history, covering the Indian civilization that ruled the upper Mississippi valley more than 1,000 years ago, while the two versions of "Heart on the Ground" (stripped-down country and full-blown rock-and-roll, respectively) depict betrayal, Missouri-style. The album's underlying voice is Jay's father, an itinerant musician and former Merchant Marine who died in the summer of 2002. "Hard Is the Fall" and "Dent County" are both stories from the elder Farrar's life.

Joined by a handpicked group of alt-country and indie-rock heroes, Farrar somberly entwines the past and present on these 23 tracks, which, collectively, sound more articulate and introspective than any other alt-country release this year. -- Andria Lisle

Grade: B+

Jay Farrar performs at Newby's on Friday, October 10th.

Happy Songs for

Happy People

Mogwai

(Matador)

Rarely is album-packaging grounds for comment on the album itself, but in the case of Mogwai's fourth full-length album, Happy Songs for Happy People, the packaging stands in contrast to the music.

The cover is minimal, with only some large sans-serif type breaking the surface of the silvery, reflective paper. Take a look at it, note your reflection, and suddenly you're the happy people for whom the happy music is intended.

The music, however, is not happy, but moody, bleak, and blustery. With titles like "Ratts of the Capital" and "Hunted by a Freak," Happy Songs occupies the same paranoid mental landscape that Radiohead hoofs across and that Sigur Ros soar above in their little Icelandic aeroplanes.

Mogwai add Disintegration-era Cure guitars to "Kids Will Be Skeletons," which are surely not ingredients for any kind of happy music, and the aforementioned "Ratts" builds over eight minutes to a rousing classic-rock climax that harkens back to Led Zeppelin's less Stonehenge-y moments. The rocking-out-to-pretentious-noodling ratio, in other words, is a little low, but somehow it feels earthier and harder than its predecessor, 2001's Rock Action.

On the other hand, Rock Action featured actual vocals, which -- let's face it -- can be a big draw. Many of these happy songs blend into each other, such that they might be more appropriately labeled movements, but Happy Movements for Happy People sounds gross.

So "happy" here is strictly ironic, and Happy Songs is less a mirror than sonic wallpaper. n -- Stephen Deusner

Grade: B

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