Specializing in brokenhearted epics, in which the characters start off in a quagmire of bad luck only to sink still deeper by song's end, Pleasant Grove's dreamy, jangly sounds suggest a depressed younger sibling of the Handsome Family. At times, the plodding and funereal tones drone on -- more melody, boys, and less Prozac, please -- and never quite grab the "country" ring they aspire to. Elsewhere, they're more successful -- the lush, wall-of-sound arrangements work well on tunes like "Demonic" and "Nothing This Beautiful." The former -- a ten-minute-plus epic -- churns and builds to a climax as devastating as a Gulf hurricane.
In addition to Egner and Striplin, the current lineup also includes Joe Butcher (pedal steel, keyboards), Tony Hormilosa (bass) and Jeff Ryan (drums). Their latest effort is Auscultation of the Heart (Glitterhouse). And let me save you a trip to the dictionary: "auscultation" is the "diagnostic monitoring of the sounds made by internal bodily organs." Which in this case is probably a slowly beating broken heart that finally just shudders to a halt. Not the show for those with suicidal tendencies or recently jilted lovers.