Here's a little word problem for you. If a van containing Son Volt, whose members are listening to the Harry Smith anthology, is traveling at 70 miles an hour for three hours driving from St. Louis to Chicago, and another containing the Latin Playboys, who are rocking out to Exile on Main Street, travels for three and a half hours in the opposite direction on the same road at 85 miles an hour, and then one of them crosses the center line and smashes into the other, what do you get?
Literally speaking, total carnage in an Illinois cornfield, not to mention the loss of many of the most important rootsy musicians of the '80s, '90s and beyond. But if you're thinking figuratively, you might get an album that sounds like Califone's Quicksand/ Cradlesnakes, a weirdly effective hybrid of the ancient and modern, the acoustic and the electronic, and the tried-and-true and the experimental.
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Far more country- and folk-oriented than their bluesy forerunner band Red Red Meat, Califone's bleak, wintry and windblown soundscapes sound like they live under a pale and cold sun. Singer Tim Rutili's imponderable lyrics are delivered in a nicotine-drenched baritone over crackling percussion and electronics amid a cascade of samples, guitars and banjos. Quicksand/Cradlesnakes may be short on songs, but it sure is long on sounding real purty, and in that way it reminds me of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Arty Houston rockers Scattered Pages and incredibly cool New York alt-country/indie rockers Clem Snide are also on the bill.