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Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub

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When a musician cuts a straight genre album—be it bebop, rockabilly, or country—the strength of the recording often has less to do with the material than it does with the performer. Johnny Cash could sing a Chinese takeout menu and make it sound like a plea to God. So, whatever Lambchop member and insurgent-country singer-songwriter Paul Burch lacks in originality on his third solo album, the very much straight-ahead Blue Notes, you expect him to make up for with personality. But Burch hasn’t found his voice yet—and he still has some serious livin’ to do. Burch’s tunes touch on all the down-and-out themes that make country music so appealing: loneliness (“Foolish Things the Lonely Do”), alcohol-fueled blues (“Willpower”), and heartbroken despair (“Hard Women Blues”). And the songs are all either melodic and catchy (especially the gorgeous “Isolda” and the melancholy “Carter Cain”) or downright stompin’ (“Long Distance Call” and “How Do I Know?”) and contain just the right amount of acoustic twang and pedal-steel moodiness. But what Blue Notes needs to rise above its decent-but-unmemorable genre-album status is a stirring interpretation of its songs. Sure, Burch has a slightly reedy voice, but so do plenty of old country crooners. The real problem is that Burch hasn’t quite figured out the best way to use it. But given time—and a few more broken hearts and whiskey shots—Burch should be able to turn his fine country songs into even finer country performances. —Christopher Porter

Burch performs Dec. 9 at IOTA; call (703) 522-8340 for information.