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Doug Martsch 

Now You Know (Warner Bros.)

As captain of the good ship Built to Spill, Doug Martsch wears a lot of hats, and he wears 'em well. One most becoming cap reads "Resident Guitar Genius." That's the one Martsch sports most prominently on Now You Know, the first side maneuver released under his own name. But rather than cut through the waves of jams that he throws down on Built to Spill albums and during their Crazy Horse-like live sets, Martsch straps on the acoustic and goes for a personally informed ride through the Delta.

In some ways, it's Martsch's John Fahey move. Finger-pickin' and slip-slidin' on an amorphous plane where traveling riverside blues and Ozark mountain breakdowns square-dance together, he gets gorgeously traditional. Yet Martsch doesn't lose his own style in favor of past forms. So Martsch's beautiful outsider songs are very much here, only they're decorated in rural-Americana garb -- best exemplified by the lovely, half-acoustic, half-electric stomp of "Window" and a spooky electrified cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Jesus." And yeah, he busts out the Strat for a couple of long-winded day trips, too. Some hats, you see, remain permanently attached.

More by Piotr Orlov

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