Califone: Roots and Crowns 

So, you're part of a hard-working band that finds itself toiling in a genre that has seen lots and lots of new and old bands crowd in over the years. What way could you best make yourself stand out from the crowd, besides being good? Well, one way is to alter the instruments you play, go for a near-retro sound with some funky tools of the trade from years gone by. Or you could incorporate other music styles into your music, although since you play in a roots-rock band, this approach is somewhat dangerous. Then again, if you're Califone, maybe you feel ballsy and do both at the same time.

With their latest, Roots and Crowns, that's the approach this intrepid foursome took. Damned if it doesn't work, too; the blend of Eastern and other influences with older instrumentation and their natural skill turns out to create a trippy, strangely laid-back vibe that evokes elder statesmen of the roots-rock movement (I'm looking at you, Wilco) without really sounding like them.

The oddness begins right out of the gate with "Pink and Sour," a relaxed romp with waterdrop beats that sets the stage for kicking back and unwinding. The beat never really kicks up much, with the exception of the lively Asian-flavored skip of "A Chinese Actor," but that's OK; with this album, Califone displays the ability to mine numerous variations out of a relatively narrow band of style.

There's a lot on this album to like if acoustic music is your vibe, especially if bands like Iron and Wine are on your playlist at home.

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