Choose Your Own Adventure
La Mancha
Sit-N-Spin Records

A lot said and little spoken. That's easy to understand if you listen to Choose Your Own Adventure's debut release, La Mancha. This Chapel Hill North Carolina trio takes you on a trip using guitars, bass, drums and a tinge of keyboard.

Turning down infinitely mapped paths, they enable us to rely and trust our own lyrical stories. Recorded entirely on analog four and eight-tracks, La Mancha has the warm feel of a band playing on your hardwood living room floor.

Each song tells a story unto itself. "Blast Off to Purgatory," the lead-off track, is more than a little reminiscent of Leatherface's brother and those unfortunate van-traveling kids. "Rough Draft Theory" relaxes you while the hypnotic, droneful "Exercise in Repetition" captivates. "The Dream of Infinite Rooms" forces a rest as the scratching-attic-squirrel-like piano travels through various chambers of the ear. Grooving into a submissive plane, "Pieces of the Sun" makes you long for a loved one as "Stonerism" closes this barrage of dark and bright sonic forces, adding uplifting driving rock and roll with a six-cracked line to guide you.

La Mancha should be absorbed in its entirety on the first listen. Once you know the story, you'll be able to go back and appreciate all six tales of love and the roller-coaster ride it takes to get you there. -Thaddeus Greear

Marla Land
Escape Artist
Kaleidoscope Records

Achingly wistful and fiercely musing, Marla Land is all about blending genres. Casually merging rock, blues, folk and jazz, Land does it all with a new-age saloon swagger. With steady strums and mostly traditional sounds, Land produces a satisfying, stripped-down sound.

Escape Artist, Land's most recent release, breathes via slow, seductive concessions with songs like "Eros" urging listeners to willful acceptance. Co-written with Paul K, "Eros" finds Land letting loose with underground jazz-style vocals. With a voice that toys around with words, Land sings from the heart. Internalizing an eclectic batch of material, she sells her tunes in her own unique way.

"Don't Ask Me" haunts while a buoyant melody keeps "Victorian Age 1995" afloat. "Notes from the Inside" sounds like a throwback to the days of the Go-Gos as "Unentitled" emerges with a barroom stomp. And "Somewhere Downtown" builds pressure, grinding at the pulse of a downtown heart.

Session work by Earl Crim, Dave Farris, Phil Weisenberger and Jeff Yurkowski helps bring these tunes to life. Engineered by Weisenberger and self-produced, Land's Escape Artist is a hint of what we can expect from this burgeoning local songwriter in the years to come. -Chris Webb

John Hiatt
The Tiki Bar Is Open

John Hiatt can be one of the great overwriters of American song. This man can extend metaphors out so far that they achieve geosynchronous orbit. But on his latest album, there doesn't seem to be any tangling of long vocal lines. In fact, as two of the first three tracks demonstrate, Hiatt is puppy-eager to have his band come crashing in, quick and loud.

A different John Hiatt? Nah. He's just so happy to have this band along - and maybe grooving on the contrast to his last, mostly-acoustic collection. The band is The Goners, featuring guitarist Sonny Landreth. And the songs are only slightly simpler than the usual. No real rewarding word-messes, just tight blues-rock with a snappy wit and it's all over in less than four minutes. Landreth has gotten even better as a foil, providing a sting on the back of the singer's genuine penitence and rueful reminiscence.

With the wordplay not so upfront, this album takes a few listens to get into. You can just be enjoying the very punchy style of the band, then hook into one of the odd lyrical turns - and next listen, you'll be wondering what line follows the one that bent your ear. If you want to go plumbing for more substance, you can definitely find it - but you can also take this one as Hiatt sings on the "Everybody Went Low": Nothing there to live up to/Nothing there to corrupt you/There's nothing further down/Turn it up or turn around.-T.E. Lyons