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Our critics' picks in new releases

If you're jaded by the claim of another 33-year-old singer-songwriter with good lyrics, a strong voice and adequate chops as a guitarist, pianist and arranger, Cole Guerra--described above--is someone to hear. Here's another claim requesting indifference: Cole Guerra is different. Really.

Guerra isn't your orthodox singer-songwriter with curly locks expressing dreadnought desires about a girl that made the wise decision to depart. Instead, Guerra writes smartly constructed, open-ended vignettes--sonically and lyrically--about the disappointment and excitement inherent in blown opportunities, and his edge has never been as sharp and his form never as accessible as on his second album, Scarves & Knives. Guerra isn't trying to sell his soul: He's trying to save it, watching those around him and juxtaposing his own well-on-the-line insecurities and shortcomings with theirs.

There's the ill-fated pro/antagonist of "Left Coast Hopes," a tribute to the Los Angeles fallen angels who "were fated to be someone" but can't cast their over-ambitions aside long enough to become themselves. There's the pop singer on the to-stage stairs, shaking in his skin with the "heebie jeebies," privately hoping that he's not the public fascination much longer. And, of course, there's the opening one-two sequence of "Away Awhile"--about loveless sex and the empty quest for innocence--followed by a single waiting in the wings, "Holed Up," a nervous jitter about chemically based sleep deprivation.

Cole Guerra cuts to the quick when he writes, not offering deadpan dissertations on character or over-involved romantic descriptions. Instead, Guerra--a former clinical psychology doctorate student who, luckily, couldn't quit toying with his real passion long enough to study--plots failings with empathy, judging them not out of superiority but out of a need to arrive at the better habits of his folly. In the lineage of Elvis Costello and Aimee Mann, Cole Guerra--backed here by an able, austere band led by J.D. Foster (Richard Buckner, Laura Cantrell) and Ted Reichman (Paul Simon, John Hollenbeck)--is an intimidatingly perceptive and suggestive new voice.

Cole Guerra and The Old Ceremony play with Jackie O Pillbox at Local 506 on Friday, Nov. 18 at 10 p.m.

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