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Review: Exene Cervenka, The Excitement of Maybe

Exene Cervenka
The Excitement of Maybe
[Bloodshot Records (2011)]

As the female singer for the punk pioneer band known just as X, Exene Cervenka had a yelp that could peel paint, but she also had a sensitive side, as revealed in her frequent side-project band, the Knitters, which delivered old-timey country and blues tunes, albeit with a somewhat ironic punkish edge. And X, along with fellow California punks the Blasters, always delivered their energy fueled with rockabilly. So after a couple decades of a solo career that saw her veering between her two extremes, it wasn’t surprising when Exene recently signed with the rootsy Chicago label Bloodshot, home to the Mekons, Neko Case, Ryan Adams, and Bobby Bare Jr. Last year’s first try, Somewhere Gone, was smart and sassy, but a little too laid back. The Excitement of Maybe definitely delivers a bigger, stronger sound, with beef from horn sections and musical muscle from jazz bassist Christian McBride. And Exene welds her Americana-style songwriting to a rock solid beat that benefits from the guitar of Dave Alvin, now an established singer-songwriter, but formerly with both X and the Blasters. While decidedly not the world’s best singer (think Johnny Cash rather than Roy Orbison), Exene uses her toned-down yelp to convey the heartache and longing in songs with titles like “Alone in Arizona,” “Half Past Forever,” Dirty Snow,” and “Love and Haight.”

—Jeff Lindholm (Montpelier, VT)

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