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Music in Brief

Speaking generally, shtick almost guarantees mediocrity in the music world, as groups usually incorporate gimmicks to distract people from lackluster music. For The Dresden Dolls, it's their "Brechtian punk cabaret" style; white-faced singer-pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione look like goth cabaret mimes. But their looks belie the intensity of their music, especially on the new Yes, Virginia (Roadrunner). Although Palmer's vocals occasionally sound histrionic, her lacerating lyrics almost necessitate the melodrama. The Dolls' style certainly reeks of affectation, but songs like "Dirty Business" and "Sex Changes" show impressive force… B

Preternaturally gifted drummer Damon Che can't let Don Caballero rest. He's steered the instrumental math-rock band through a continually rotating lineup since 1993, but the group essentially broke up after American Don in 2000. Still, they reassembled pretty quickly for World Class Listening Problem (Relapse). The album has all the markings of classic Don Cab: non-sequitur song titles ("Mmmmm Acting, I Love Me Some Good Acting"); Che's amazing, polyrhythmic playing; and twisting, elaborately written songs that incorporate everything from metal to post-rock to punk. The songs are so busy that it takes multiple listens to digest them completely… B

Drag The River is composed of veteran punk-rockers, but it still plays country-fied roots-rock that's about as authentic as it gets. The band's new album, It's Crazy (Suburban Home), has a number of quiet, mournful songs ("Beautiful & Damned," "Fire & Flood") that make it sound hushed overall. But the group really shines on the more uptempo tracks, particularly "Me & Joe Drove Out To California…", the album's best track. Vocalist-guitarists Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass are once again in fine form, their pack-a-day voices perfectly suiting the music. New member Casey Prestwood is their secret weapon; his pedal steel really enhances the album… A-

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"Better Than Broken," the opening track to The Bottle Rockets' new Zoysia (Bloodshot), may be the perfect song, at least when it comes to representing the best aspects of insurgent country. Bandleader Brian Henneman has been playing it since before it was called that, and "Better Than Broken" proves how much he's mastered the style. Perhaps that explains why the rest of the album goes in a different direction: It's too easy. Unfortunately, when The Bottle Rockets veer into Chicago blues territory on the third track, it doesn't work, and the album never recovers. C

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