More than a decade into The Minus 5's existence, it's hard to get a handle on exactly what the band is supposed to be, which probably suits founding member Scott McCaughey just fine. On the band's new eponymous LP, dubbed The Gun Album (Yep Roc) because of its cover image, McCaughey is joined by his regular cohort Peter Buck, as well as members of Wilco and The Decemberists. The result is another agreeable—though ultimately negligible—collection of jangly garage rock, with a small handful of catchy songs sprinkled among some fairly generic filler. The frame is lovely, but the picture is indistinct… B-

There's far more spark in The Avett Brothers' overlong but frequently stunning Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions (Ramseur), which builds campfire sing-alongs into the kind of harrowing, gutbucket expressions of fear and pathos that Nick Cave and Tom Waits have practically patented. Unlike a lot of rowdy hick poseurs, the upstart country-rockers in The Avett Brothers don't need mayhem to make their songs work. The vivid lyrics and hooky melodies of "Sixteen In July" and "Famous Flower Of Manhattan" prove these guys have the chops to play it straight. But the frayed edges and raised voices of songs like "Colorshow" and "Distraction #74" add levels of emotion and energy that veer impressively into the red… B+

The Avett Brothers' North Carolina neighbors in Patty Hurst Shifter play a more traditional but no less exciting version of roots-rock on Too Crowded On The Losing End (Evo), which has a lot in common with The Jayhawks, Gin Blossoms, and Whiskeytown, including the latter's former drummer, Skillet Gilmore. Bandleader Marc Smith plays stinging guitar leads over classic rock rhythms, and applies his gruff, twangy voice to crowd-pleasing anthems like "Never Know" and "When You Lie," which treat romantic confusion as a kind of common-man heroism… B+

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Finally, on a delightfully disreputable note, San Diego cowpunk outfit Scotch Greens carries on the recent tradition of high-energy rock bands adding trad strains for the sake of bewitching teenyboppers who've never heard a mandolin sound cool before. The band's new album, Professional (Brass Tacks/DRT), lacks The Pogues' authentic swagger and subtlety, but rollicking songs like "Deaf Girlfriend" and "Rumspringa" are tacky in the best possible way, with a love of storytelling that's totally infectious. B