Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands

Mark Pickerel, onetime drummer for Seattle cult faves The Screaming Trees, and who even did a short stint with Nirvana, steps up to center stage with a collection of dark, sullen tunes that blend country, rock and pop into a vaguely supernatural stew. Pickerel has a deep, sinister baritone with a little catch in the back of his throat that can imply subtle regret and vulnerability. On the slower tunes, his edgy phrasing brings to mind a more dissolute Chris Isaak, or a more tuneful Nick Cave. On the rockers, he purrs like a leopard about to pounce, sounding playful and vaguely lethal at the same time. The band supplies an ambient low-key spaghetti Western twang and loping beats that keep most of the album moving at a brooding, relaxed pace. The exceptions are the cowboy Motown strut of "Sin Tax Dance" and "A Town Too Fast for Your Blues," a psychedelic Texas rave-up, but the murky mix and Pickerel's despondent delivery maintain the music's unsettling mood.


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