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With the exceptions of early Son Volt and Will Oldham when he’s less idiot than savant, Lullaby for the Working Class renders all the No Depressioners superfluous. Unlike the rest of the alt.country horde, the Lullabyers convince because they aren’t trying to be twangy poets or sensitive folkers—like Dylan, they just are. Hailing from Lincoln, Neb., Lullaby is built around singer-guitarist Ted Stevens, multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and his bassist brother A.J. The band’s unique sound (a country-folk hybrid subtly ornamented by cello, banjo, glockenspiel, and pump organ) and Stevens’ intelligent, genuinely poetic tales make for a haunting, mesmerizing combination. Spirituality, or the lack thereof, is often at the core of Stevens’ lyrics, as in “In Honor of My Stumbling”: “Faith is a candle in direct sunlight/And I find a great consolation in saying/My eyes and my mouth will surely return to a place where they were summoned from,” Stevens sings in a passionate, shaky voice, before pausing and finishing with, “Just like a fool puts his faith in things he can’t attain.” The coexistence of Stevens’ hope against hope for something greater in the future and his attempts to lead a humane, dignified life in the present is a theme he explores with unflinching honesty on “This Is as Close as We Get”: “When the times are good my shaky hands will find your back/A kingdom I’d unravel in our bed/When the dishes fly I will bless your offering/Lick your tears and wonder if this might be home.” There is an endless depth to I Never Even Asked for Light, one that commands constant revisiting. It’s not often a record demands your attention; this is one that does. —Christopher Porter