Record Review - 2 May 13 2004

Chicago quartet Califone has explored the intersection of electronic sound textures and traditional blues-folk arrangements since the 1997 disintegration of Red Red Meat, the shambolic codeine blues-rock group that played breeding group for Califone members. While each Red Red Meat member contributed to Califone in the past, the lineup solidified around Tim Rutili, Ben Massarella and newcomers Joe Adamik and Jim Becker as of last year's Quicksand/Cradlesnakes. While still prone to bits of electronic detritus, it proved the apogee of the collective's craft, even improving upon Califone's stunning debut LP, Roomsound, with more affecting songs and a tighter mix of effects and loping songcraft. Now, Heron King Blues registers as the ensemble's most experimental to date.

Heron King Blues retains many of the elements of Quicksand/Cradlesnakes — particularly on the acoustic opening track, "Wingbone" — but elsewhere the quartet seems intent on pushing its shotgun marriage to the edge of dissolution. "Trick Bird" has the gentle ambience of a trip-hop tune aside from Rutili's hoarse vocals, while the country guitar of "Sawtooth Sung a Cheater's Song" sounds as though it were dropped into the opening "sound check" of the Velvet Underground's "European Son." The album culminates with the 15-minute title track of detuned skronk-blues atmospherics that resemble Captain Beefheart. While still interesting, fans of Califone's futuristic country-blues songs — as opposed to the group's increasingly experimental predilections — may be disappointed.

Califone plays the Echo Lounge Tues., May 18. 9 p.m. $8.