The Decemberists (Capitol)
If he hadn't found a successful career in music, Colin Meloy would've made a kick-ass history teacher. Since 2002's Castaways and Cutouts, the eccentric songwriter and lead singer for theDecemberists has told the tales of pirates, Civil War refugees and Chinese trapeze artists with flair, like a long-winded Dennis Miller ranting in song. Meloy's yarn-weaving lyrical style continues with his band's latest release, The Crane Wife, but there are some substantial musical differences this time around. "The Crane Wife 3," the album's opening track, forgos the accordions and most of the colloquialisms of albums past, opting instead for forthright vocals and acoustic guitars. Meloy also seems to have developed a penchant for '70s prog, the most effective simulacrum of which takes place around the eight-minute mark of "The Island, Come and See, the Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel the Drowning." Every once in a while, the band's old style bubbles to the surface. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. (Meloy's nasal delivery of "The Perfect Crime 2" recalls Jerry Lewis' "Hey, lady!" shtick.) The important thing is that the Decemberists continue to push forward, even though they're still singing about stuff that took place centuries ago.