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Picture a dusky barroom pungent with ale, sweat, familiarity. Its odd mix of strangers and strange friends feels like a second home. Sight and sound blur in the intoxicating dark; with each successive act, the anticipation grows, charging the collective mood of the audience. The tension heightens; Nine Wood breathes fire into the space, smothering the chitchat, riveting attention on the stage. Three players and a singer; a set of drums, a pair of four-strings, a voice. Succinct, bone-tight songs, hammered-out heavy without the metal, hint at the Jesus Lizard sans the serrated fever of hard-core Chi-town. Vocalist Angela Coon is a commanding presence. A feral crooner of elliptical melody, she looks as though she's about to jump off the stage at any moment — but that's part of the illusion. She's a buoy amidst the crashing waves of rhythm, seducing the audience with poetry of detachment (from “Nun Hammer”: “When the killer comes the nun takes a drink and says, 'Sing with me, sing with me'”) and poetry of pain (from “I Have Germans”: “I still love the curving sky where your hand outstretched deals me dizzy/ Blackbirds flying backwards as I'm dreaming orange marbles in a cold black dish”). Nine Wood's cogent combo of dark word and stark groove engrosses with its directness. The new album American Salt Lick feels like an old friend's beery slap on the back.

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