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Tara Jane O'Neil 

Sue Garner and Rick Brown

Tara Jane O'Neil
Peregrine
(Quarterstick)

Sue Garner and Rick Brown
Still
(Thrill Jockey)

One of the most accomplished women in independent rock, Tara Jane O'Neil has played in Rodan, Retsin, and the Sonora Pine. On her first solo release, Peregrine, O'Neil defines herself as a multi-instrumentalist: She plays guitar, bass, keyboards, banjo, and piano. Compared to the material she's recorded with other bands, Peregrine is decidedly less structured. This is a good thing -- it was her plan all along to show up at the recording studio with quite a few things unplanned, leaving much of the song structures to spontaneity and intuition. She owes a bit of the improvisational success to the help of her friends, including Ida guitarist Dan Littleton and the Hall of Fame Band violinist Samara Lubelski. The results? Subtle-yet-powerful ballads with an emphasis on guitar weavings.

The latest Sue Garner and Rick Brown project is another example of stunning melodic rock. Like O'Neil, the wife-and-husband duo of Garner and Brown boast impressive rock résumés -- both are alums of Run On, and Garner is a former member of both Fish & Roses and the post-punk girl group the Shams. For this 12-track album, Garner and Brown recruited Tortoise's Douglas McCombs, Tara Key, and producers/mixers extraordinaire Chris Stamey and Doug Weiselman. All four donate impressive instrumental work. Not that the songs suffer from sounding too similar to each other -- significant mood changes distinguish them from each other. You can do all the indie-rock family-tree tracing and linking you want, but the main focus of Still is Garner's graceful lyricism. On some songs, you'll recognize Garner's affinity for country ballads mixed with straight-up rock and roll; on others, she's a slow-jazz songstress. On "Damp Spirit," Garner's indecipherable chant-like vocals are looped with simple drums, guitar chords, and percussion. Garner and the gang also do an impressive to-the-point rendition of John Lennon's "It's So Hard."

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