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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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American Music Club
Love Songs For Patriots

Mark Eitzel is generally regarded as one of rock's great unloved geniuses. Without any kind of claim to genuine fame, the 45-year-old songsmith still can have Michael Stipe fawn all over his tunes, can have a crew of amazing artists (Paula Frazer, Ida, Lambchop, Calexico, M.Ward, etc.) contribute to a tribute record in his honor, can have Art Alexis cop a bandname from an Eitzel-penned album and make a million bucks off it, can have a sticker on the front of his compact disc quoting a newspaper calling him "America's Greatest Living Lyricist." As far as mopey, monobrow'd, miserablist mavericks of the American songwriting idiom go, Eitzel is treasured; and, so, when American Music Club announced that they were reforming, after being dead for 10 years, there were those who turned cartwheels in anticipation. Which seemed rather like setting oneself up for disappointment. See, even Eitzel's most ardent admirers would have to confess that, over all these years, over all these records — and, in American Music Club and solo, I'm tallying it up as 14 longplayers, now — he's only made two great albums: AMC's 1993 masterwork, Mercury, and his fourth solo record, 1998's Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby. The rest of the time Eitzel is a big tease, flirting with his fans, promising greatness and never quite delivering.

It's no surprise, then, that Love Songs for Patriots has that same kind of feeling: its fleeting moments of genius flanked by sketchy songs, its curious, dense production burying Eitzel's amazing voice under layers of maudlin instrumentation. Eitzel played a bunch of these songs when in Melbourne in early 2002, and it would've been hard to believe, then, that the mindblowing "Patriot's Heart" he played live could be so sullied in the studio. But here it is, in neutered recorded version, all Bad Seedsy dirge of lumpen piano-chords and tasteful guitar-colorings, such dressing obscuring the raw genius of the song, where Eitzel sings of being confronted by obnoxious patriotism in, of all places, a rough-trade bar. Written amidst America's post-terrorist-attack state of outright paranoia and misguided belligerence, the album is filled with keen observations on the AOK USA; Eitzel again uses his literary lyrics to tell those tales from the underbelly-of-society on which he's long made his name. Yet, whilst there's no doubting the ferocity of either songs or sentiment, Love Songs for Patriots is but another frustrating affair for Eitzel fans, be they famous or not.

by Anthony Carew

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