Dolly Varden

SXSW Records

Phases and Stages

Dolly Varden

Forgiven Now (Undertow) What does it say about a band when their weakest effort is still pretty good? That could be the lot of Chicago's Dolly Varden and their fourth full-length, which is rife with the ease that made the previous three LPs so likable, yet is lacking their addictive quality. The effort is certainly there. Even though Forgiven Now has moved even closer to twangless, there's some added pedal steel and mandolin in spots, with the band trying out its first straight two-stepper on "There's a Magic." The vocal interplay between the husband/wife duo of Stephen Dawson and Diane Christiansen is more confident than ever, and the production is impeccable. Someone even tried to sneak in a subtle nod to Angus Young with the main guitar riff of the title track (Dawson chuckles at its appearance). There's just no centerpiece to hold the whole thing together, like "The Old in and Out" from 1998's The Thrill of Gravity or "The Dumbest Magnets" from Y2K's album of the same name. Those albums had a weight that made them more like thrill rides with turns and momentum swings. Forgiven Now is much more of a merry-go-round, smooth and constant. It's still a pleasant experience, just without the feeling that you've been taken somewhere you weren't even sure you wanted to go. Both bring you back where you started, one is just a more exciting way to get there. (Friday, March 15, Opal Divine's, midnight)

**.5

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