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“I’m a bum, bum, bum,” sings Alex McManus on “Do Si Do,” the beguiling square-dancing-at-sea number that opens the Bruces’ second album, The War of the Bruces. McManus, a member of Nashville’s finest band, Lambchop, isn’t really a bum: His voice isn’t nearly cigarette-‘n’-whisky-ravaged enough, and these songs are too elegantly put together to have been written by a slacker. But neither does his output point to his being an overachiever: Eight years have passed since his one-man band put out Disc Numero Uno. In the meantime, the Bruces’ alt-country-ish approach—there are hints of both Uncle Tupelo and the Palace Brothers—has become an indie cliche. But McManus adds lots of folk and psychedelicized pop touches, which don’t so much wimpify his sound as add a pleasing touch of strangeness to it. “Sunken City” pairs scruffy guitar licks with jangling alarm clocks and lovely “bop-ba-baaa”s. “Invisible Ceiling” mixes some swirling Grateful Dead-esque guitar with a melody that evokes—no fooling—Harry Chapin before it disintegrates into some Apocalypse Now-ish percussion voodoo. And “After Hours,” a homespun surrealist ode along the lines of CCR’s “Looking Out My Back Door,” employs guitar feedback and a bit of old-timey Velvet Underground-style vocal schtick—think the added middle section on the 1969 live version of “Sweet Jane”—to accompany McManus’ descent into late-night kitchen madness: “All the burners on the stove/Are winking at me/They know that everyday something/
Catches flame and is set free.” As if that’s not enough, McManus closes War with a prettified version of “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” the traditional that proves the only thing queerer than a $3 bill is a $40 one. By the time he sings, “Let your hair roll down let the bangs curl around/Oh baby let your hair roll down” and lets a wave of white noise rise ever so gently in the background, you’re ready to let him take as long as he damn well pleases to make Album No. 3. —Michael Little