album reviews

Chris Merritt
Pixie and the Bear
Independent (2008)
Judd and Maggie
Kingdom of Noise
Independent (2008)

Whether intentionally or not, Chris Merritt is one funny dude; on his CD "Pixie and the Bear," he begins "Andrew" with a memory of driving with a friend: "We sang with a Daft Punk song/And you told me to sing the right notes/Or you swore you would kick my ass." The recollection is commonplace enough, but it captures the camaraderie of a road trip, and Merritt's deadpan delivery makes the moment more tender than goofy.

That's a common theme in Merritt's piano-driven tunes: He tells stories about people and events that aren't terribly unusual, and yet his voice and delivery draw you in to find out what happens next. On "Arizona," he sings about an all-consuming crush on a girl he has just met; with the added sweet vocals of his bandmates at the end, his lovelorn Ben Folds-like tone captures that feeling better than words do.

"Pixie and the Bear" is a double album, yet he changes style and tone enough to keep things interesting: The tune "A Song About Being Frustrated While Watching Layer Cake the Movie Written in a Layered Style at Times Similar to Cake the Band" is almost an electronica track, while the harmonies of Heidi St. Julien make "Quinn" one of the album's most memorable numbers.

Similar harmonies are all over Judd and Maggie's latest, "Kingdom of Noise," which is a more lo-fi approach than the Bolger siblings' 2005 major-label album, "Subjects." The duo, originally from Baltimore, sings folksy songs that benefit from the more relaxed feel, with the addition of handclaps on the title track and the humming on "Tired of Wrapping." But the spotlight still remains on their voices: Maggie's angelic coo and Judd's more weary-sounding croon mesh beautifully on the violin-driven "Hold Your Digits" and the climactic album-closer "Not Out for Blood."

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 27 March 2009, Page WE08
.: Items mentioned above on Pixie and the Bear (Chris Merritt, 2008); Kingdom of Noise (Judd and Maggie, 2008).