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Barbara Cue

RHYTHM OIL  (Sanctuary) • Barbara Cue

Outside my window, it's deep wintertime in the Northeast. But here inside, because of the music coming from the speakers, I'm enjoying a perfect late-spring afternoon in the South, just right for a backyard party. I've never been to Athens, Georgia, but (like a lot of people) I've been carrying a perhaps-romanticized version of that town since I got turned on to those first two R.E.M. records many years ago. The band that is keeping Georgia on my mind these days is also Athens-based (though the players originally hail from all corners of the Peach State), and their music seems entirely suited to my imaginary Athens.

Barbara Cue was assembled as a one-off, has continued for the past seven years as a side project (these are musicians who, when their regular groups are taking a break, spend their off time playing in another band for fun), and now appears to be turning into something more central. (A list of all the bands these guys play in or have played with would run about as long as this review--visit their website for the particulars.) Their third release, Rhythm Oil, still has the air of something done purely for the pleasure of it. Barbara Cue feels like a band--which is to say there's never a sense of somebody out front hogging the spotlight. Everybody sings, everybody writes. A quintet comprised of four guitar players and a drummer who also plays guitar (there's trading off on bass, sometimes a switch to pedal steel or to dobro), they've made a record filled with extremely satisfying guitar. The solos are meaty and unhurried, the rhythm playing limber and economical, full though never slushy.

And while the sharp drumming keeps things jumping (you may feel the surprising urge to dance in the up & down style), their slower songs are lovely and soulful. (One of those, "Reasons," was the track that caught me first--check out the clip on the Listen page.) I haven't meant to suggest that Rhythm Oil is an overly "sunny" record, not at all--only that its grooves are providing a change of atmosphere that feels like a much-needed break in bleak weather.

I'd say more about it, but I have to go shovel my truck out of the snow...    • James Meyers

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