REVIEWS

CHRIS ACKER
GOOD KID
(SELF-RELEASE)

Chris Acker’s sophomore album, Good Kid, is everything a country singer-songwriter album should be. It’s lively, honest, and catchy as hell. The locally-recorded full-length is heavily reminiscent of the storytelling and disposition of a young John Prine. Acker’s songs deliver heartbreaking punchlines with cheeky pleasantries; a nod at the kind of old country humor found in staples such as Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City.” While there are traces of these predecessors, the songs remain authentically Acker. It’s clear he has a good time song writing, yet glimpses of darker, more poignant themes emerge in “Aloe Vera” and “Orion’s Gut.” Good Kid is a rousing album with a well-balanced dose of pedal steel, bright organ, and infectious rhythm. Ross Farbe (Video Age) recorded most of the solo songs in the studio, while Duff Thompson (Mashed Potato Records) took on the full-band numbers in live recordings. Shows are currently on hiatus, so do yourself a favor and watch Acker’s entertaining music videos on Youtube for “Gran Turismo” and “Good Kid.” Danielle Dietze

FIONA APPLE
FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS
(EPIC)

Fiona Apple has never sought mainstream legibility, and on Fetch the Bolt Cutters she journeys further into her own esoterica. On the opening track, Apple nearly screams “Blast the music / bang it / bite it / bruise it,” as her voice eventually devolves into a quivering mess of wordless squeals, the piano intensifying beneath. She weaves dogs barking, voices screaming, and offbeat percussion into the album’s foundation to disorient, then reorient listeners to her own path. The album champions a seething solidarity between women and asks us to reexamine those we’ve been taught to resent. She connects exes to exes, herself to hurting lovers, and women to women across traditionally uncrossable lines. On “Newspaper” she sings “I watch him walk over you, talk over you, be mean to you / And it makes me feel close to you,” at times growling the lyrics out. “For Her” begins with clapping, turns sing-songy like a hand game at camp; then midway through the song breaks and she screams “Well, good mornin’… You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” There are no rules on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Apple does and says exactly what she wants, with no regard for consequence or reception. —Marisa Clogher 

CAVETOWN
SLEEPYHEAD
(SIRE)

Robin Skinner, popularly known as Cavetown, has been consistent in creating feel-good tunes, and his fourth album is no exception. The son of two musicians—a professional flautist and Cambridge University’s Director of Music—musical ability is practically coded in his genetics. True to its name, Sleepyhead is gentle and relaxed, filled with hope and adolescent lovesickness. With slightly more instrumental complexity than previous releases, this record aptly reflects the growth Skinner experienced since the release of his debut album five years ago. In an unconventional marketing strategy, he released five of the album’s eleven tracks as singles between August of last year and March 20, 2020, seven days before the album’s full release. While Skinner has received backlash for this choice, I believe the unseen half of the record certainly makes up for it. Perhaps the most interesting track is “For You,” the sequel to “Sweet Tooth,” which reprises the characteristic bedroom pop croon of the opening track, this time as an indie rock anthem filled with power chords and a heavy drum line—a pleasant surprise in the artist’s otherwise mellow discography. —Victoria Conway 

GLENN DANZIG
DANZIG SINGS ELVIS
(CLEOPATRA)

Glenn Danzig has cited the film Jailhouse Rock as one of the main childhood influences that made him want to become a musician. Often called the Evil Elvis, Danzig’s vocal style has conjured the King’s from his early days with Misfits, into the Samhain era, and of course throughout his current solo career since the late ‘80s. This album of Elvis covers has been talked about for years, to the point where it started to seem like an urban legend. The truth is, Glenn had been recording Elvis songs over the years and initially planned on releasing some of them as an EP, but instead it snowballed. The results are interesting and quite possibly not what you might expect. Naturally the album has a dark tone (“Is It So Strange,” “Young And Beautiful”) but it does stray into lighter content (“Baby Let’s Play House,” “Like A Baby”) which offers a refreshing glimpse into a lesser seen side of Danzig. Unlike Danzig’s blues metal version of Elvis’ “Trouble” back in ‘94, this release stays very true to the vibe of the originals and has a lowkey ‘50s feel to it. The haunting reverb lends itself well to the production, and this manner of recording works great for songs like “Always On My Mind” and “Love Me.” However, production value varies throughout; and the buried, distorted guitars on tracks like “One Night” and “Girl Of My Best Friend” would’ve been better replaced with a more traditional rockabilly sound. His version of “Fever” really gets to the core of what works here. Despite having a very serious execution, it seems like Glenn had fun with this project and he’s doing exactly what he wants to do. As a huge fan of both of these crooners, I welcomed this release with nostalgic enthusiasm and enjoy it more with each listen. —Bill Heintz 

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
THE UNRAVELING
(ATO)

Even without reading the press, you know this one came hard because this is the longest DBT have taken between albums since they started recording more than 20 years ago. It’s also a departure from their last couple releases (which saw a 50-50 split in the songwriting), as Patterson Hood contributes seven tracks to Mike Cooley’s two. Hood’s always had a knack for third-person, Southern slices-of-life like “Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun.” But on “Thoughts and Prayers” and “Babies in Cages,” he sounds uncomfortable, pushed outside his comfort zone by the exigency of responding to a political crisis. The results are genuinely outraged, earnest, and compelling. Cut for cut, this album doesn’t always measure up to the high-water marks they’ve set for themselves over an astonishing career. But “Armageddon’s Back in Town” and “Heroin Again” rock. And when Hood sings, “I’m sorry to my children, sorry what they see / I’m sorry for the world that they’ll inherit from me,” he sounds like he means it. —Tom Andes

EOB
EARTH
(CAPITOL)

Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien (EOB) has been an integral presence in the band for 35 years. On Earth, his solo debut, O’Brien finally steps into the spotlight, unveiling a rich set of songs that have an undeniable element of Radiohead and yet are very much O’Brien’s own. Drawing from such influences as Carl Sagan, climate science, Primal Scream, electronica, Brazilian music, and Phish, the songs on Earth acknowledge the darkness present in our world while still holding fast to the shards of light, still striving to find the Bigger Picture. The eight-and-a-half-minute long “Brasil” encompasses this dichotomy—the melancholic acoustic first half builds into a more hopeful finale, an ending giving way to a possible beginning. “Banksters” rages against the corruption and inequity in the world (“Where did all the money go, you fuck”) while reminding us of our collective power to counter it (“We’re breaking free, breaking free”). From the joyful, rave-tastic “Olympik” to the guitar-heavy slow burner “Deep Days,” O’Brien’s songs are a reminder to never lose sight of what is beautiful amidst it all. —Mary Beth Campbell 

DUA LIPA
FUTURE NOSTALGIA
(WARNER)

On her second studio album, Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa indulges in the restorative power of disco. Dua Lipa’s brand of pop is one of aloof indifference, of healing through dancing rather than crying. The album opens with funky synths, over which she sings, “No matter what you do, I’m gonna get it without ya / I know you ain’t used to a female alpha,” with the phrase “future nostalgia” underlaid into the beat. The album is filled with club bangers that reflect different stages of developing feelings and moving on from them. “Cool” depicts early infatuation, with a bass drum that mimics a fluttering heartbeat, while “Physical” captures a more primal sexuality often laid bare on the dancefloor. To be given an album so built for dancing and touching in a time of extreme isolation feels somewhat cruel, but it’s been a type of endorphin rush I’ve been severely lacking. There’s restoration through movement and fun. On “Love Again,” she sings “I can’t believe there’s something left in my chest anymore / But goddamn, you got me in love again,” and as listeners, we’re urged to move through the pain rather than sit stagnant in it. —Marisa Clogher 

GRIMES
MISS ANTHROPOCENE
(4AD)

An industrial-tinged concept pop album loosely centered around the climate crisis (as seen through the point of view of mythical, misanthropic characters) sounds——on paper—convoluted. Yet somehow, Grimes has made it work. Miss Anthropocene, Grimes’ fifth studio album, is a dark, mesmerizing, and honest collection of songs. Most of the tracks have an industrial, sci-fi vibe, though “4ÆM” is also an homage to the music of Bollywood films, while acoustic guitar and piano (“Delete Forever” and “New Gods”) make appearances. In addition to the climate crisis, Miss Anthropocene addresses such topics as sexism (“So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth”); opiate overdose (“Delete Forever,” written after Lil’ Peep’s accidental overdose); and death (the gorgeous and menacing “Before the fever”). Despite the darkness, Grimes maintains the sense of camp that was present in her previous works. And there is still joy: the album ends with the upbeat and ethereal love song “IDORU” (“We could play a beautiful game / You could chase me down in the name / Of love”), offering some light amidst it all. —Mary Beth Campbell 

ITTA
ENTER
(AURAL CANYON)

Itta’s experimental drone compositions offer a much welcomed sense of escapism during these turbulent times. The South Korean musician sculpts ambient pieces out of layers of ethereal vocals, toy instruments, and electronics, resulting in some of the most soothing sounds in recent memory. Itta is best known for her work as half of the multi-national project TENGGER, but Enter shows that Itta has a lot to offer on her own as well. I’m positive I will be revisiting this release frequently during stressful moments ahead. —William Archambeault

MDOU MOCTAR
IBITLAN
(SAHEL SOUNDS)

Mdou Moctar is the champion of Tuareg guitar. In 2019, the Nigerien guitarist won over global audiences with blazing live sets and his first full-band album Ilana: The Creator. His psychedelic rock-tinged take on Saharan blues continues the captivation on this 7”. This recording captures Moctar’s bold sound in a concise fashion. “Ibitlan,” a staple of Moctar’s live shows, sometimes drifts past ten minutes live, but the guitarist keeps it to a sharp four minutes on this recording. Moctar’s blazing leads soar over repetitive grooves on instrumental b-side “Tiknass (Sunbone).” All the physical copies of this 7” sold out immediately (and with good reason). —William Archambeault 

THE QUARANTEENS
WHERE’S MY SHIRT?
(SELF-RELEASE)

In a truly bizarre turn of events, half of the Descendents have recorded a song about local punk band PEARS. Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton teamed up with his daughter Sophie O’Reilly and Descendents singer Milo Aukerman to lament about PEARS’ lackluster mail order service. The group, dubbed the Quaranteens, rips through this 36-second homage with a combination of urgency and refinement. PEARS, like many bands, was forced to cancel its Spring U.S. tour. Egerton and company are donating the proceeds from this tune (via Bandcamp: stephenegerton.bandcamp.com) to PEARS to help ease the financial pains of those cancelations. It isn’t every day that one of a band’s biggest influences records a song about them and then gives them the money. —William Archambeault 

RATBOYS
PRINTER’S DEVIL
(TOPSHELF)

Printer’s Devil is the third full-length from Chicago’s Julia Steiner and David Sagan, united as Ratboys. Steiner and Sagan have consistently been phenomenal songwriters, and now with a fixtured band behind them (Marcus Nuccio on drums and Sean Neumann on bass), the duo emerges as an established indie rock band with a definitive identity. The choppy power chords and captivating riffs illuminate Steiner’s delicate vocal delivery. Songs such as “Victorian Slumhouse” and “Clever Hans” highlight her imaginative songwriting capacity and are reminiscent of early Rilo Kiley. Printer’s Devil delivers all the necessary hooks and sonic development that we love from their former albums, GN or AOID, but with audibly louder confidence. In “Anj,” Steiner sings the anthem, “You’re not alone / I’m not alone,” a reminder we could all use about now.  —Danielle Dietze 

RICH OCTOPUS
S/T
(SELF-RELEASE)

On their self-titled debut, New Orleans emo pop quartet Rich Octopus have crafted a set of songs infused with local flavor (see “Elysian Feels”), switching in tone between the whimsical and the emotional. Lyrically, they lean heavily on familiar tropes of broken relationships and smoking weed, making me wish they explored outside that realm a bit further. Musically, the band members play well off each other, crafting a sound that is rooted in classic emo without sounding cookie-cutter. And like all good emo bands, Rich Octopus skillfully express both the lingering pangs of youth and the existential musings and uncertainties that arise as we find ourselves getting older. Mary Beth Campbell 

STATIC STATIC
THE FUTURE AS DARK
(SPACE TAKER SOUNDS)

Local duo Static Static conjures the type of dark synth that could easily soundtrack a post-apocalyptic dive bar. Over a decade since Static Static’s first and only prior album, John Henry and Heather Vinz have revived this old project and reimagined it as something new. This time, the two have swapped their old rock’n’roll band approach for pulsating dance tunes. On songs like “We Are of the Night,” the duo sound like a more evil version of their close comrades Quintron & Miss Pussycat. Henry and Vinz are both members of local garage staples Heavy Lids, and thankfully this album continues their trademark lo-fi assault. “That’s Right” stands out as a pounding rocker to shake the frayed bits of your remaining sanity away. —William Archambeault 

THUNDERCAT
IT IS WHAT IT IS
(BRAINFEEDER)

It Is What It Is captures Thundercat’s full spectrum. The first two-thirds of the album is energetic and often humorous. The bassist’s trademark virtuosic chops embellish these tunes. “Black Qualls” is a funk throwdown of the nastiest proportions featuring Slave veteran Steve Arrington, The Internet’s Steve Lacy, and even Childish Gambino. “Dragonball Durag” might be one of the first sensual love songs to take its title from an anime. In sharp contrast, the album’s closing chapter distinctly shifts towards slower, more emotional compositions. “Fair Chance” captures the sorrow that Thundercat and others felt following his close collaborator Mac Miller’s passing. Thundercat follows it with a short yet deeply personal number tellingly entitled “Existential Dread.” On the album’s title track, Thundercat gently sings “Hey, Mac” as he plays a delicate instrumental tribute that slowly fades into silence, ending the record. Thundercat isn’t afraid to share the good and bad times with us. —William Archambeault 

TORRES
SILVER TONGUE
(MERGE)

Silver Tongue, the latest from TORRES (a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott) is a departure from her earlier works. Previously known for a more stark and discordant sound (in particular, her 2017 album Futures), the songs on Silver Tongue are more contemplative and intimate, centered around the theme of love and the peace that it can bring (most of the songs on this album are, unapologetically, written about Scott’s long-term partner Jenna Gribbon). Scott’s sound has adapted to her lyrics, taking influences from indie pop (“Two of Everything”), Gregorian chanting (“Records of Your Tenderness”), and country and folk music (the cowboy-tinged love ballad “Dressing America”). Despite the varying influences for each song, Scott’s piercing and honest contralto ties them all together, adding an additional layer of emotion. Ironically, the softer approach on Silver Tongue has led to perhaps the most raw and honest TORRES album to date—an album which, though based upon the artist’s own personal romance, still maintains a sense of universality. Mary Beth Campbell

WAXAHATCHEE
SAINT CLOUD
(MERGE)

Saint Cloud, the fifth album from Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield), is an unflinching collection of songs centered around self-acceptance and self-realization. Fittingly, the sound on Saint Cloud departs from the lo-fi and post-punk that have previously defined her music, finding inspiration instead in the Americana and classic country she grew up with. This return to musical roots provides Crutchfield with the vehicle to reflect upon her past—to decide what to accept and hold on to, and to acknowledge what must be let go, as on “St. Cloud”: “Where do you go whenyourmind starts / To loseits perfected shape? / Virtuosic, idealistic, musing afall from grace.” Crutchfield’s keen talent for storytelling shines on this album, as she faces depression (“Lilacs”) and embraces self-love and acceptance (“Fire”). The final result is a gorgeous and thoughtful album that offers inspiration for one’s own journey of reflection and acceptance. Mary Beth Campbell

JAMES LEBRECHT AND NICOLE NEWNHAM
CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION
(HIGHER GROUND)

Camp Jened was a summer haven in upstate New York for youth with disabilities. It was also the meeting place for a cohort of young people who, empowered and radicalized by their experiences at the camp, became leaders of the disability rights movement. Crip Camp tells their story. Using archival footage and interviews, directors James LeBrecht (himself a Camp Jened alumnus) and Nicole Newnham have created a documentary that is both inspiring and honest. Culminating with the 26-day-long “504 Sit-In” in 1977—which led to the eventual passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—the film both celebrates the movement’s accomplishments and lays bare the great sacrifices that were made in the pursuit of rights the able-bodied community takes for granted. Crip Camp is unapologetically a political documentary that illuminates the intersection of civil rights (as Black Panther Brad Lomax told the 504 protesters: “You’re here to make the world a better place, and so are we”), and the progress that is still needed. As activist Denise Sherer Jacobson notes in the film: “You can pass a law, but until you change society’s attitudes, the law won’t mean much.”  —Mary Beth Campbell 

JAMES LEBRECHT AND NICOLE NEWNHAM
CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION
(HIGHER GROUND)

Camp Jened was a summer haven in upstate New York for youth with disabilities. It was also the meeting place for a cohort of young people who, empowered and radicalized by their experiences at the camp, became leaders of the disability rights movement. Crip Camp tells their story. Using archival footage and interviews, directors James LeBrecht (himself a Camp Jened alumnus) and Nicole Newnham have created a documentary that is both inspiring and honest. Culminating with the 26-day-long “504 Sit-In” in 1977—which led to the eventual passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—the film both celebrates the movement’s accomplishments and lays bare the great sacrifices that were made in the pursuit of rights the able-bodied community takes for granted. Crip Camp is unapologetically a political documentary that illuminates the intersection of civil rights (as Black Panther Brad Lomax told the 504 protesters: “You’re here to make the world a better place, and so are we”), and the progress that is still needed. As activist Denise Sherer Jacobson notes in the film: “You can pass a law, but until you change society’s attitudes, the law won’t mean much.”  —Mary Beth Campbell 

STANLEY NELSON
MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL
(EAGLE ROCK)

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool undertakes an impossible task. Director Stanley Nelson attempts to cover one of the most esteemed careers in the history of recorded music in less than two hours. Miles Davis spearheaded many different movements in jazz across multiple decades. This documentary tells Davis’ story through a combination of the trumpeter’s own personal narrative and heaps of interview footage with key collaborators and those close to him. The film does a remarkable job of skimming Davis’ life story. Those unfamiliar with the scope of his work will learn a lot. This film intertwines his recording feats with plentiful personal struggles. Although the film could’ve dived deeper into Davis’ relationship with women, it does not shy away from some of his more problematic behavior. Birth of the Cool is very insightful, but it’s hard not to wonder if this film could’ve been better retooled as an episodic series. Surely, Davis’ storied career could justify the choice. For instance, many Davis fans are eager to learn more about his electric phase and explore his more experimental works, such as the 1972 cult classic On the Corner. Instead, many of Davis’ key albums become mere sound bites in this overarching story of his life. This film had a small theatrical run in the fall but was far from a blockbuster hit. Hopefully, its new spot on streaming platforms will allow it to reach a wider audience and renew interest in one of modern music’s most influential icons. —William Archambeault 

ADAM DUBIN
MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW
(MVD)

This documentary provides an intimate look into the Bay Area’s notorious 1980s thrash metal scene. The area produced many of the subgenre’s greats, including Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Exodus, and Testament (just to name a few). Long before Metallica became a household name, members were rowdy kids in an underground scene that yearned to do something against the grain. Murder in the Front Row welcomes the now elder musicians and fans of the scene to look back at their youthful exploits. Back then, each group was determined to be faster and heavier than the last. Intensity was paramount, both on and offstage. Exodus singer Paul Baloff was even known to physically go after those he deemed posers. Murder in the Front Row has plenty to offer for both casual fans and thrash diehards.This documentary tracks the careers of key groups while also reflecting upon the spaces and sense of community that defined home for them. (In many ways, the scene depicted in this film brings to mind New Orleans’ own respective metal community.) The Bay Area’s close-knit community came together in an environment plagued by crime and unemployment. Against the odds, they united to create a globally recognized sound. —William Archambeault 

CASEY SUCHAN, DENIS HENRY HENNELLY
THE ANIMAL PEOPLE
(BIRD STREET / FINNGATE)

The Animal People is a documentary (currently available on Netflix) about the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign against contract-animal-testing company Huntington Life Sciences (HLS). This campaign—through office invasions, home demonstrations, cyberattacks, and clandestine sabotage, targeting even tertiary companies associated with HLS—brought a corporation to near-bankruptcy on multiple occasions. Specifically, the film follows a group of individuals (known as the SHAC7) who were indicted under the post-9/11 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and who’ve all subsequently been released from prison. In short: a story about people so dedicated to ending animal abuse that they went up against a Goliath, and who were so effective that joint law enforcement agencies issued a federal decree branding them terrorists. Now: how is this relevant to right now? Maybe you don’t care about mass movements. Maybe you don’t care about animals. But it’s almost certain the government will use the current pandemic to enact measures to restrict our autonomy, make us fearful of stepping out of line, and to bolster the authoritarian state. So it’s up to us to be prepared for what this new world order looks like, and how we will fight back. —Derek 

AKASHA RABUT
DEATH MAGICK ABUNDANCE
(ANTHOLOGY EDITIONS)

Celebration in Black New Orleans is well-trodden photographic terrain, making it hard to see how a New Orleans photo anthology featuring second lines and Mardi Gras Indians could say something new. But Akasha Rabut’s Death Magick Abundance is as fresh as it is familiar, steering clear of cliché by presenting more than just spectacle. Though the Indian suits and costumed revelers she portrays are certainly spectacular, Rabut doesn’t let her subjects do the work for her. In one photo, her camera centers not on a tribe of Indians stepping out of the house on Mardi Gras day, but a woman in a camouflage hoodie and a full head of turquoise curlers in their midst. In another, a woman in gold holds the reins of a white horse; and what is most striking is not the roses in its mane or the shimmer of her face paint, but her wry smile and the blue of her horse’s eyes, matching her own. At the center of the book are two more focused photo essays; one is a study of the ladies’ motorcycle club The Caramel Curves, the other is a long look at the New Orleans horsemen Southern Riderz. Both are accompanied by interviews with the subjects that provide the context necessary for readers to engage more deeply with these traditions. But even in the first and last sections, which are less structured, the complex compositional elements come together to create a deeper narrative that lingers in the mind long after the book is shut. —Holly Devon 

JARED REINMUTH, FRANK “BIG BLACK” SMITH
BIG BLACK: STAND AT ATTICA
(SIMON AND SCHUSTER)

On September 9, 1971 inmates at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York rose up to demand a prison policy that respected their civil rights, during a time when the country was as much at war with itself as the North Vietnamese. A year earlier, the National Guard had opened fire on Kent State University anti-war protesters, leaving four students dead and many more injured; and only two weeks before the Attica Uprising, Soledad Brother George Jackson was shot down at San Quentin. Making their own stand, Attica inmates managed to seize control of the prison for four days, holding ten guards hostage as they negotiated for just living  conditions. However, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller refused their demands for amnesty; and when his task force raided the prison, the reprisal was unmerciful. The uprising ended with 39 dead (including the hostages) and 89 wounded at the hands of the New York police. In the new graphic novel Big Black: Stand at Attica, Jared Reinmuth resurrects this turbulent moment in our history and puts the reader directly into the fray. The story is told through the eyes of Frank “Big Black” Smith, in his own words. As a football coach for the inmates, Big Black quickly earned a reputation for strong leadership; so when the uprising broke out, he was selected by the other inmates to be head of security. Though his job during that time was primarily to make sure cooler heads prevailed and—most importantly—keep the hostages safe, when the police raided, he was singled out for interrogation and torture (including genital mutilation and shotgun roulette). Artist Améziane’s illustrations are striking; the bulging eyes of officers that continually shout racist slurs and death threats are colorless, but the eyes of Big Black are always warm, brown, and lively. Big Black: Stand At Attica is an unflinching look at a shameful moment in our country’s history, and a loving tribute to a man whose courage and sense of justice kept him fighting systemic incarceration both inside and outside the walls of Attica until his death in 2004. —Holly Devon 

AKASHA RABUT
DEATH MAGICK ABUNDANCE
(ANTHOLOGY EDITIONS)

Celebration in Black New Orleans is well-trodden photographic terrain, making it hard to see how a New Orleans photo anthology featuring second lines and Mardi Gras Indians could say something new. But Akasha Rabut’s Death Magick Abundance is as fresh as it is familiar, steering clear of cliché by presenting more than just spectacle. Though the Indian suits and costumed revelers she portrays are certainly spectacular, Rabut doesn’t let her subjects do the work for her. In one photo, her camera centers not on a tribe of Indians stepping out of the house on Mardi Gras day, but a woman in a camouflage hoodie and a full head of turquoise curlers in their midst. In another, a woman in gold holds the reins of a white horse; and what is most striking is not the roses in its mane or the shimmer of her face paint, but her wry smile and the blue of her horse’s eyes, matching her own. At the center of the book are two more focused photo essays; one is a study of the ladies’ motorcycle club The Caramel Curves, the other is a long look at the New Orleans horsemen Southern Riderz. Both are accompanied by interviews with the subjects that provide the context necessary for readers to engage more deeply with these traditions. But even in the first and last sections, which are less structured, the complex compositional elements come together to create a deeper narrative that lingers in the mind long after the book is shut. —Holly Devon 

LEE DURKEE
THE LAST TAXI DRIVER
(TIN HOUSE)

A failed novelist and ex-adjunct who lost his teaching position after getting in a bar fight, Lou drives a cab in the fictional town of Gentry, Mississippi. Telling the story of a very bad day in the life of its protagonist—as Uber threatens to put his industry out of business—The Last Taxi Driver weaves together anecdotes from Lou’s existence on the margins of a Southern college town. Much of the action revolves around the seedy Rebel Motel, where the rooms smell like slit wrists. Other stops include Gentry’s two rehab clinics. Lou’s empathy—especially for his working-class African-American fares who shell out a significant part of their hourly pay for his services to take them to and from work, as well as his loathing of 21st century Confederates—makes his story timely and compelling, with observations bordering on the sociological. By virtue of its humor, empathy, and wellsprings of human decency, the novel succeeds as an indictment of the ravages of neoliberalism and a portrait of a character pushed to the brink. —Tom Andes 

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