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Spirit Duplicator

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Hipster folkie supergroup the Wingdale Community Singers -- featuring David Grubbs of Gastr del Sol and Bastro, novelist Rick Moody, and singer/songwriter Hannah Marcus -- have expanded to a foursome with the addition of visual artist and sometime-musician Nina Katchadourian for their second album, Spirit Duplicator. But thankfully, that hasn't changed the charming modesty of their musical outlook, which remains willfully spare and centered on Grubbs' less-is-more guitar work and the vocal interplay of the other members. While on the group's debut Marcus took most of the leads and Moody wound his vocals around them, for Spirit Duplicator the harmonies have grown a bit fancier, though as lovely as they may be, they still have a playful seated-around-the-urban-campfire feel. Katchadourian's voice is a superb match for Marcus, but the reedy tone of Moody's instrument gives the vocal mix a welcome sweet-and-sour tang and that suits the witty but often dour tone of these songs just fine. Moody and Marcus handle the bulk of the songwriting for this album (moving back and forth between collaborations and solo efforts), though Katchadourian contributes a pair of striking numbers, "Profilia" and "Aviary," and the closing cover of the Carter Family's "Death Is Only a Dream" is inspired, matching beauty with understated dread in a manner that befits the rest of the album. The Wingdale Community Singers occasionally play with country and folk archetypes in songs like "Rancho de la Muerta," "AWOL," and "Tears in My Tequila," but the majority of Spirit Duplicator leavens the dry realities and casual cruelties of contemporary life with humor (and vice-versa), and the simple, sturdy blend of the voices and the understated accompaniment is the ideal vehicle for this material. And "Les Paul" may be the most charming and sincere love song to a musical instrument ever recorded. Part of what makes Spirit Duplicator work is the fact these folks haven't quit their day jobs, and are free to let this music follow the lead of their collective muse, though when the results work this well, it's not hard to wish that they could find time to go into the studio more often than every three years, though a periodic dose of this stuff is still very satisfying. ~ Mark Deming