Cotton Mather

Wild Kingdom (Star Apple Kingdom)

Texas Platters

The advantage of a project like Cotton Mather leader Robert Harrison's songs for every hexagram in the I Ching is that there's little pause between releases. Wild Kingdom, second chapter in the Austin guitar pop band's magnum opus, thus arrives eight months after last year's sterling Death of the Cool. If the latter spun a refinement of the ramshackle psych-pop anchoring the locals' Nineties masterpiece Kon Tiki, the new album goes even further, with a coat of polish not perceived since its 1994 national debut Cotton Is King. The high craft of "Fighting Through" and epic ballad "The Army" thrive with such treatment, but Harrison avoids slickness in giving soul-inflected hopper "I Volunteer" and cheeky garage rocker "The Cotton Mather Pledge" a classy sonic veneer rather than crass studio ornamentation. As on most effective concepts, you can grok the theme of Gradual Progress in the evolving relationship of "Girl With a Blue Guitar" without knowing it's connected to the 53rd hexagram. The ability to take personal obsessions and make them accessible defines great artists, and Cotton Mather wears that mark proudly on Wild Kingdom.

***.5

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