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Alex Bathgate - The Indifferent Velvet Void

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Artist: Alex Bathgate

Album: The Indifferent Velvet Void

Label: Lil' Chief

Review date: Nov. 9, 2005

Everyone in a long-lived band fulfills a function. Chris Knox is the Tall Dwarfs' madcap, attention-grabbing front man; Alec Bathgate is the "quiet dwarf," the guy who keeps things together, keeps the music interesting, and plays all the hard guitar parts. One need only compare the monochrome consistency of most of Knox's solo records with the anything-goes diversity that the Dwarfs have manifested throughout their 24 years of recording to get an idea of what Bathgate brings to the band.

But like any great ensemble, there's chemistry involved; Bathgate, like Knox, sounds more adventurous striking sparks off his partner than he does on his own. Nothing on The Indifferent Velvet Void, his second solo album, sounds as demented as the melting "Louis The First," as warped as the spoken-word, pro-mental illness screed "Lurlene Bayliss," as disorienting and downright diseased as "Two Dozen Lousy Hours."

That said, most of the album's songs could easily have ended up on a Tall Dwarfs album, since Bathgate's been taking brief solo turns on them ever since Weeville. But they seem a bit more worked-on, more finished than the Tall Dwarfs' "we've got five songs to finish this weekend, and we haven't written 'em yet" recording schedule allows. And more rooted; you can hear Bathgate working through his influences - T. Rex, the Spiders From Mars, the Beatles, the Yardbirds - by working their riffs and arrangement flourishes into songs. But Bathgate's still his own man. He's got a knack for coming up with distinctive melodies and great guitar tones, and there's no mistaking his reedy, earnest, multi-tracked vocals for anyone else's. And he's got a few things of his own to say, albeit in somewhat telegraphic fashion. Bathgate doles out small, bitter truths, one or two per song, with plenty of melodic sweetening so they go down easy. But the best moments come when he leavens his vitriol with vulnerability and wonder, like "In the Shadows'" vision of grace on a dying friend's face.

By Bill Meyer

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