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Murray Attaway "In Thrall" DGC

April 22, 1993|MIKE BOEHM

Of the dozens of guitar bands that jangled in the shadow of R.E.M. during the '80s, one of the best was another Georgia-based four-piece called Guadalcanal Diary. At its peak, on the albums "Jamboree" and "2x4," Guadalcanal and its main singer-songwriter, Murray Attaway, waxed alternately spooky, funny and fervent.

The offbeat humor doesn't come into play on "In Thrall," Attaway's first album away from the group; still, it's an intelligent and evocative record, a spiritual quest by an able pop-rock craftsman. Attaway gets plenty of help from producer Tony Berg, who has worked with such pure-pop exponents as Michael Penn, Squeeze and O.C.'s Altered State. Berg liberally applies the Mellotron and the Chamberlin, two primitive '60s-vintage synthesizers, to nice, mysterious effect. And he has hired on a high-powered stable of sessioneers that includes Jackson Browne singing backing vocals on one track, and a keyboards-playing murderer's row of Nicky Hopkins, Benmont Tench and Steve Nieve. Attaway contributes a clear, reedy voice that sometimes recalls John Lennon by way of Peter Case.

His songs tackle large religious and spiritual themes without getting preachy. In matters spiritual, Attaway seems to be saying, the answers will always be fleeting, and the key is to move forward, faithfully asking the right sorts of questions. He frames the album with a pair of complementary songs: "No Tears Tonight" leads off with a brawny, almost Springsteenian kick as Attaway proclaims himself ready and invigorated for a questing life. By the end, "Home," our quester has had most of that starch taken out of him and is left sounding worn and wearied, but still faithfully, hopefully yearning. It's the simplest song on an elaborately produced album, and in its loveliness recalls Procol Harum's sublime "Pilgrim's Progress" and Lennon at his most tender.

Between those bookends, Attaway keeps things interesting with such songs as "Walpurgis Night," a spooky evocation of a landscape dominated by sinister spirits; "Fall So Far," a lively song about screwing your life up, and "My Book," a charging rocker in which the songwriter imagines his creative life as a Sinbad's journey into wonder. While Attaway may not keep you in thrall for 1,001 nights, his album does bear up well with normal, repeated use.

Murry Attaway plays Saturday, April 24, at the Coach House, opening for Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians.

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