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The Joel Plaskett Emergency

Our critics' picks in new releases


A handful of clued-in writer types entertained themselves in 1999 by using Vic Chesnutt and the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne in all possible combinations to describe In Need of Medical Attention, the appealingly off-center and stripped-down solo release from Halifax, Nova Scotia's Joel Plaskett, formerly one half of Thrush Hermit. The release of the hopped-up Down at the Khyber, credited to The Joel Plaskett Emergency, has led to similar behavior, only this time out, it's Neil Young and the entire Lips catalog as comparison fodder. And there's no denying it--the record does have plenty to offer comparison junkies.

"There's Love in the Air" is Led Zeppelin with a sense of humor ("But I'm on the ground," laments the second half of the chorus) while "Maybe We Should Just Go Home" is progressive power pop a la The Minus 5. On "Waiting to Be Discovered," Andy Partridge-ish vocals coupled with a reference to the film Night of the Hunter conspire to make the track the perfect, and most likely first-ever meeting of XTC and Robert Mitchum.

Whether he's rhyming "catchin' on" with "Saskatchewan" or orchestrating the dramatic coda that caps "Light of the Moon" (and closes the album), a lot of Down at the Khyber is just Plaskett doing what he does best--being a genius waiting to be discovered. (That's his dad on banjo, by the way.) Displaying genre-hopping skills, he engages in some north-of-the-border soul on "Unconditional Love" and duets with Ruth Minnikin of roots-leaning labelmates The Guthries on "Blinding Light." Best of all are "This Is a Message" and "True Patriot Love": The latter just might be a love song involving national anthems, while both sport soaring, exhilarating choruses. With plenty of moments familiar and/or flashy, Down at the Khyber is the kind of sleeper album that you want to tell strangers about. So consider yourselves told.

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