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Milagro Saints 

The smoke rises off the grill as glasses clink and conversations ebb and flow. If ever there were a record made for a warm summer evening cookout, it just might be this new release by the Milagro Saints. Raising the standard of modern folk rock, the trio of S.D. Ineson, Joyce Bowden and Lee Kirby fulfill the promise set forth on their first album with Midnight Caravan, their second release.

The trio formed when Ineson crossed paths with Bowden and Kirby at Kirby's New York apartment, back when Ineson was a member of the Jack Rubies and Bowden was busy working as a session musician on various side projects for David Byrne and Jerry Harrison. The three shared a love for strum-along, organic music. Eventually, they decided to move--as a group--to Raleigh, where they've been visible on the Triangle club scene. Midnight America features 11 tight, melodic songs that range from upbeat toe-tappers to contemplative ballads, with guest musicians factoring heavily in the disc's full sound (Richard Bowden's outstanding fiddle and mandolin work shines as the highlight). Kirby, too, creates moods with his understated Hammond organ parts, providing a base for the other instruments to rest upon.

But, undeniably, the real magic in this music comes from the spectacular harmonies created by Ineson and Joyce Bowden. Bowden's warbling soprano adds just the perfect complement to Ineson's tenor. You can sense their connection as like-minded musicians through their vocal rapport: Check out "Amelia," which features a wildly hum-able melody that culminates in an emotional blending by the pair on the chorus. Recorded (for the most part) at Duck Kee Studios in Mebane by Jerry Kee (known for his work with Superchunk and Portastatic), the Saints have firmly entrenched themselves in the local scene. Save for the odd tour, let's hope they stick around.

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