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Gob Iron 

Death Songs for the Living (Legacy)

Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar's first band, may have invented alt-country, but it was so busy channeling Neil Young and Gram Parsons through ragged atmospherics that the band forgot to fully bake its songs. But two bands and a solo career later, Farrar has not only recorded the kind of indelible album that always eluded Uncle Tupelo, but he's also turned the tables on his onetime bandmate, Jeff Tweedy, who hogged the critical glory with Wilco for so long.

On Gob Iron's debut, the duo of Farrar and Varnaline's Anders Parker borrows classics from such musical patriarchs as Stephen Foster, Josh White, and the Stanley Brothers -- and the greatness of the tunes they interpret has rubbed off. Sure, they've rewritten the lyrics, but always seamlessly; the old mining song "Silicosis Blues" makes reference to health insurance, for instance.

The arrangements -- beautifully carved with sympathetic guitars, piano, and the occasional pump organ or e-bow drone -- are neither overly traditional nor self-consciously edgy. And when Farrar sinks his smooth baritone into a tale of dirty work, hopeless love, or untimely endings, he's not channeling the greats, just singing a great song.

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