If Bob Dylan were presently 18 years old and raised on a mixture of the Violent Femmes, Devo, the dB’s and Stray Cats, he might sound like this excellent, offbeat trio based in San Francisco. On Romance, guitarist Jefferson Keenan’s unmusical adolescent voice sings lyrics that casually mention Kierkegaard, paint detailed portraits of maladjustment and do a considerable amount of soul-bearing; the music is a well-played hodgepodge of folk-rock, rockabilly and ragtime. This much personality can be hard to take, but the jolly music keeps things light, and the intelligence obvious in the lyrics makes these guys sound like fascinating people.
Keenan’s artless adenoids are again the trio’s featured organ on Train of Thought, a distinctly Femmesy semi-acoustic rock record that boasts intriguing arrangements, excellent playing and delicately interwoven electric guitar instead of rampant stylistic variety. Although less personally revealing than those on Romance, songs like “Saw the Woman in Half,” “Psychology Today” and the jazzy “Formaldehyde” reaffirm the odd slant of Keenan’s lyrical interests. A mention of “sitting around like sophomores do, arguing ethics” may help explain exactly where he’s coming from. Another very good record from this talented band.