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A worthy experimentalism

From the Motion Picture Soundtrack
From the Motion Picture Soundtrack
By Death Valley Pizza

Self-released: 2008

Buy it now

This review first appeared in the January 8, 2009 issue of the North County Times.

Vocalist Ian Zalewski lists his residences as Julian, Eugene, Ore., and Death Valley on his MySpace page, but the presence of Dennis Caplinger on banjo, mandolin and fiddle makes this an album of absolute interest to local audiences. Caplinger is not only a regular presence in the house band for just about any musical that stops at the Welk Resort Theatre, but he's also played with everyone from Eve Selis to Tim Flannery to Berkley-Hart. He's a magician with strings, and here he's surrounded by Doug Meyer on pedal steel, Megan Jane on drums and Zalewski's own soaring electric guitar.

The result, combined with Zalewski's alt-rock (and sometimes even further out) vocal style, is an album that – like former Penetrators lead singer Gary Heffern's latest solo outing – is an almost-always intriguing melange of bluegrass and trad country coupled to all kinds of experimental threads from the last four decades, plus blues, jazz and mainstream rock.

Folks looking for a normal country or country-rock experience might be turned off by the weirdness, but there is an overriding sense of melody here that grounds even the most out-there attempts at pushing the envelope. Plus the band is just so darn talented that no matter how experimental they get, their playing is so outstanding that you can't help but want to hear where they're going next.