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El Capitan 

What Ails You

Wednesday, Nov 2 2005
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Where El Capitan's debut, Atwater KNC, presented the band as an amiable, if inoffensive, local country-rock upstart, the quintet's follow-up, What Ails You, makes a substantial leap, skipping the picked-over scraps of Wilco influences for heavy helpings of sunny melodies and ambitious songwriting; even some of California's solid-gold songwriters creep into the picture, from Everybody Knows-era Neil to the Eagles -- and Lebowski be damned, we mean that as a compliment. After warming the tubes with the reverb-flooded "Manzanita I," the band bounces into the backbeat of "Osage Orange," whetting the appetite for what's to follow: clever lyrical turns that never get cutesy and dead-on vocal harmonies just when we need 'em most. Knee-deep into things, El Cap unveils its strongest moments with the easy shuffle of "Metronome" and the arching melodic lines of "Silo Song." Throughout, Ryan Henry's gravelly delivery musses confessionals with metaphors and the band's instinctual playing drives us through choruses awash in lush strings and guitorchestras as well as more spacious, bare-bones verses. As the record fades out in a squall of fuzz and droning violin, it becomes clear how far the Captain has come.

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Nate Cavalieri

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