"The Cost" (Anti-)
* * 1/2
Some bands push forward a sound so obstinately that a little love is pointless: Swear by them or you're off the boat. The Frames are like that. The Irish group's epiphany-littered songs are extravagant in a way that makes hipsters nervous but are too stubbornly arty for even the Coldplay crowd. Its cult wonders, will the Frames ever have a "Yellow"? With "The Cost" (in stores today), the band's sixth studio effort, the odds are still unclear.
The breakthrough should have been 2005's "Burn the Maps," the band's enthrallingly dark, dynamic debut on the Anti- label. "The Cost" feels wearier. The tempos are more uniform, and the huge arcs of all those ballads, hoisted high by fiddle, abstract guitar fragments and Glen Hansard's scratchy tenor, feel surprisingly safe.
A stateside hit might come from a quieter place. Hansard has another group, Swell Season, with Czech pianist and singer Marketa Irglova. Its songs are more quietly romantic than grandiose; the Frames rework two on "The Cost." "When Your Mind's Made Up," especially, has a scalable hook and sentiment. The uninitiated might bite. If not, "The Cost" offers enough bravado for Frames fans who have their sea legs.
"Charlie Louvin" (Tompkins Square)
* * *
Here's yet another venerated country musician being given a shot at renewing his career with the help of some heavyweight peers (George Jones) and acolytes (Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, members of Bright Eyes and Lambchop). If the idea itself seems a bit tired, the results are anything but.
When Charlie was teamed up with his high-harmony-singing older brother, Ira, in the '40s and '50s, the Louvin Brothers set the standard for tight country harmonizing, typically finding off-kilter intervals that gave their songs of faithless lovers and faith-seeking lost souls an eerie, otherworldly dimension.
It's been 42 years since Ira died in an automobile accident, and Charlie makes it clear in the ode "Ira" that the loss of a sibling is something you never get over -- you just accept and keep living. Like Johnny Cash's latter-years recordings, this album (due in stores today) has no time for frivolity or wheel-spinning -- the limits of time become the great motivator to focus on what matters.
Louvin celebrates old-school country, the kind that looked square in the eye of human frailty back before country got hellbent on trying to make all fans feel good all the time. His weathered voice sounds like torn sandpaper, and when he lays out the sweet innocence that inexplicably turns horrific in "Knoxville Girl," you know you really aren't in Nashville anymore.
Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent ) to one star (poor).