"Black Blue Jeans" by Arthur Dodge, from The Perfect Face (Remedy Records):
Arthur Dodge may be in the bar, but he is not of it. The Lawrence denizen's fifth release, The Perfect Face, is gorgeous, nuanced, gentle and sly. It's the first album Dodge has released without crediting backing band the Horsefeathers (though each Feather contributes), calling to mind the twilit plunge that Neil Young took into Harvest Moon after raging through Ragged Glory. Opening track "She Wants a Cowboy," its brushed snare, female backing vocals and pedal steel drifting to the rafters, sets a tone of ironic resignation: She wants a cowboy/I play one on TV/She wants the real thing/Something I'm never gonna be. As if to address listeners' reaction to that song, Dodge croons, I'm so relieved you're tragically amused on the next song, over a dainty, pop-jazz bounce and sparkling-wine banjo. Randy Newman fans will get Dodge, not just for his dry wit but also for his sweet, chewy, rough-edged baritone, a perfect voice for this lilting collection of close, slow dances. And like Newman, Dodge knows that a song doesn't have to sound sad, that a singer doesn't have to mention whiskey and heartache to be poignant, funny and real. Dodge's CD-release party is Friday, March 23, at the Eighth Street Tap Room.