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Local CD review blowout: Yeltzi, Two Many Banjos, the marcgartband and the Hobo Nephews

The Yeltzi debut is finally here Ambition is the name of the game with Sara Softich and Jason Wussow's first project under the Yeltzi flag, "Snow in August." Not only is the long-awaited debut one of the most instantly appealing records to come o...

The Yeltzi debut is finally here

Ambition is the name of the game with Sara Softich and Jason Wussow's first project under the Yeltzi flag, "Snow in August."

Not only is the long-awaited debut one of the most instantly appealing records to come out of the Twin Ports, but fans who buy the physical product are greeted by a lavish insert with pieces by such talented artists as Bridget Riversmith, Nate Lindstrom and Carrie Kohlmeier.

The collaborations don't end with the packaging, though. "Snow in August" is teeming with guest musicians, from cellist Kathy McTavish and guitarist Steve Isakson to Mary Mack, who brings her clarinet handiwork to "Red Boot Song."

But my favorite guest spot would have to go to recent departee Leane Perius, who lends her impeccable vocal skills to the beautiful title track. While Perius' contributions are subtle, her backup vocals work so well in "Snow in August" because the song almost seems like a spiritual successor to "One-Legged Horse" (the centerpiece of her 2007 debut, "Virginia Wakes," which just happened to feature ... Sara Softich).

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Her backup vocals also reinforce what we already know: Softich and Wussow are the stars of the show here, and the myriad collaborations, while nice, aren't what brought us to this album.

While there's no way Yeltzi the duo could pull off such high-flying numbers as "Get Up and Dance" -- sure to be a staple of all tomorrow's wedding parties the second "Snow in August" hits the streets -- without some additional personnel, the skill of their craft as songwriters really shines through during the album's simpler moments.

Softich posits herself as Duluth's answer to Anna Fermin on the vivid and humorous "Red Boot Song," and Wussow delivers on the winning "Scooter." OK, it sounds a lot like the upbeat "Get Up and Dance" -- played in a trademark style they like to call "gypsy bluegrass" -- but, once you've got a winning formula, why mess with perfection?

Yeltzi will play a CD release show for "Snow in August" at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 at Beaner's Central. Musical guests include Kathy McTavish, Sheila Packa, Lance Rhicard, Jerree Small, Leane Perius, Dan Dresser, Steve Isakson and Marty Halverson. Cost is $6. Visit www.yeltzi.com for more details.

Gartman's making us all look bad

Averaging about three albums a year, Marc Gartman is the Twin Ports equivalent of Robert Pollard.

But Gartman's output isn't hit-or-miss like that of the former Guided by Voices frontman; it's all good and it's getting better with each release.

First up this season is "Give Me Time," Two Many Banjos album No. 550 (give or take).

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Kidding aside, this collaboration with Trampled by Turtles' Dave Carroll is starting to rival No Wait Wait and the Gallows, Gartman's two previous bands, in terms of pure bliss.

Starting with the album's stunning artwork (courtesy of Carroll), "Give Me Time" finds TMB completely rejuvenated and at the top of their game.

Basically, they're set to take on the world. And a-conquerin' they will do with lead-off track "Advice on Choosing the Right Mattress." In addition to showing off Gartman's under-appreciated sense of humor, it's pure gold!

I always thought TMB was somewhat of a step in the wrong direction for Gartman -- having fallen in love with his earlier records -- but now, after "Mattress" and the equally enthralling "Ditto Kiddo," I'm starting to think this whole experiment is going to pay off.

Even better than the new TMB album is "Me and My Big Ego," the first release from the seemingly random studio project dubbed, hilariously enough, the "marcgartband." (What'd I tell you? This guy should be over at Dubh Linn telling some jokes on Saturday night with the pros.)

As explained on the group/project's MySpace page, a majority of the "Ego" tracks stem from the great times Gartman had on Duluth's beaches this summer.

And it shows: Not only does "Ego" live up to its upbeat billing, but it's also one of the most refreshing records to ever emerge out of the fertile local scene.

The album starts out earnestly enough with the entrancing "All the Young Stallions," which would've worked on any of the Gallows' records, but totally switches gears with the exotic title track.

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While I'm no percussion expert, I'm pretty sure that's a steel drum Gartman is playing on "Me and My Big Ego." Basically, if I were in charge of scouting a location for this track's music video -- which it really deserves -- I would gladly offer up, "Park Point Beach House, during the 'magic hour,' hands down." Cliché? Yes. Perfect? You bet.

Other highlights on this unexpected gem -- which, like "Give Me Time," was masterfully put to tape by Rich Mattson in his Sparta Sound studio -- include "The New Seventeen," a great one to play when you're having a pre-midlife crisis; "Who Decides," an epic track featuring Zenith City rock god Alan Sparhawk; and "Back with You," which, in my humble opinion, is all the proof I need to refer to Gartman as a musical genius in casual conversation.

Two Many Banjos will play a CD release show for "Give Me Time" at 10 p.m. Oct. 10 at Pizza Luce. The Tisdales open. Cost TBA. See www.myspace.com/twomanybanjos for details. Hear tracks from "Me and My Big Ego" at www.myspace.com/marcgartband .

Mr. and Mrs. Alexy, thank you

Some other artists I respect greatly are Ian and Teague Alexy, otherwise known as the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank.

While the "One for the Time Capsule" EP isn't a full-fledged release -- more or less just something to whet fans' appetites before the CD/DVD "Traveling Show" drops next year -- it's a nice addendum to "Sing!"

If you'll remember, that album, the group's second, featured such lovable tunes as the Molly Maher collaboration "2010" and was released to rave reviews all around last October.

Not surprisingly, "Time Capsule" continues along the same folk rock lines, even going so far as to resurrect one of that album's tracks: "Heaven Tries" is back for an encore, enhanced both by Dance Band drummer Hans Johnson and A Gentleman Named Actionslave, who provides much-need "science" to the already-winning track.

"Time Capsule" is a charming little odds 'n' sods package. The contributions from Actionslave are intriguing, especially on the experimental "'Ed, You Look Like a Madman,'" but the EP's centerpiece (at least for me) is the simplistic masterpiece that is "Any Decent Dog's Dream."

The brothers Alexy strike gold with this lovable Teague-penned composition, which centers around the unspoken bond the musician shares with his dog Diego and some humorous (mis)adventures they have shared in Holyoke, Minn.

Maybe it's just my wife, a proud owner of "The Dog Bible," rubbing off on me, but I couldn't help but smile when I heard "Any Decent Dog's Dream." As far as storyteller songs go, they don't get much more heartfelt than this.

More than that, it proves that the Budgeteer-bestowed title "new kings of Highway 61" wasn't written in haste. The Hobo Nephews still deserve all the praise in the world.

The Hobo Nephews will play an EP release show at 8 p.m. Oct. 10 at Beaner's. Cost is $5. Toby Churchill of the Alrights will open. See www.hobonephews.com for more info.

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