Phil Tagliere

Slow (Bong Load)

Singer/songwriters may be overly sensitive, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be confronted with the awful truth: that many of them -- from the lowliest dorm-room dreamer to the mighty Ani DiFranco -- offer overstylized anthems rife with tiresome self-reflection. Luckily, while L.A.'s Phil Tagliere comes equipped with an acoustic guitar and a penchant for introspection, his sparse debut album, Slow, stands as a breed apart from the work of your typical coffeehouse caterwaulers.

While other singer/songwriters still bow down before the '70s artists who lent the genre its sappy connotations, Tagliere leans toward more unusual influences. Slow's epic, lilting simplicity bears touches of White Album-era Beatles and the gentler side of Guided by Voices, especially when Nina Piaseckyj's cello and the weeping steel of L.A. country stalwart Rick Shea leaven Tagliere's rich acoustic playing. The song "Levee" has skipping rhythms and imploring refrains that reveal a direct line to traditional American folk sources, rather than their third-generation pop descendants. The Byrds-y guitar arpeggios of "There's a House" recall early R.E.M., as does the unsentimental hunger in the song's lyrics: "There are countries, there are whole cities, that most only see in longing." Likewise, Tagliere's reedy vocals suggest a composite of John Lennon and GBV's Robert Pollard, instead of other simpy, breast-beating singer/songwriters.

But Tagliere is not completely untouched by the early '70s. Slow bears some of the rustic lilt and diffusively meditative lyricism of Neil Young, one of the only top-selling troubadours of that era. Although the self-centered style of Young's peers may have lost its luster, Tagliere and Slow prove that a distinctive voice, a poetic soul, and an acoustic guitar can still sound fresh.

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