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Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter 

Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk)

Wednesday, Feb 7 2007
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The problem with the fourth record from Jesse Sykes isn't her ample talents for penning a maudlin phrase or vocalizing thoughts in a breathy, dramatic manner. In fact, her wavering sandpaper alto has finally ripened to sound natural singing about typically dusty alt-country props like "mission bells" and "spectral ghosts." The rub lies in that the totality of her gloominess is hard to take too seriously. Like others at the crossroads of Nick Cave and Drake, Sykes' goth folk can teeter between beautifully gloomy and just plain dull. When background singers let fly a sunny "bah-bah-bat-bah" to set up the lyric "the prisoner died, Lord, we knew we failed," the nearly comedic cheerlessness might as well be delivered by Morticia Addams. When Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul gets out of the bog of mid-tempo, minor-key wallowing, as on the Jefferson Airplane-inspired backbeat of "You Might Walk Away," Sykes pulls off the grim-reaper bit with panache, and tear-in-beer country licks from ex-Whiskeytown guitarist Phil Wandscher give the occasional self-aware wink. But for all the heart-racing fodder in the record's title, the music is contained within flatlines. — Nate Cavalieri

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Nate Cavalieri

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