This week I'd like to catch y'all up on a couple of Columbus releases from the country-fried side of Columbus rock 'n' roll. One's brand new, and one's overdue for review.

This week I'd like to catch y'all up on a couple of Columbus releases from the country-fried side of Columbus rock 'n' roll. One's brand new, and one's overdue for review.

The recent offering comes from The Mooncussers, a Todd May-led lineup of Columbus rock mainstays. Last year's demos collection was a solid set of bottom-of-the-bottle roots rock. Their first proper EP, "Aperitif," is a step up: more polished in sonics, songwriting and arrangements. Everything is clicking.

This is not trailblazing music, but it's not exactly paint-by-numbers stuff either. "Foolish" embarks on a simple but highly effective feedback trip, while "Tanglefoot" concludes the album with another noise excursion, sounding a bit like Jay Farrar taking a page from the Jeff Tweedy playbook. Even the relatively prosaic "Lullaby" sideswiped me with an unexpected chord detour.

Despite the clever quirks, The Mooncussers' appeal rests mainly in May's weathered storytelling and his players' expertise at teasing out his emotions with each instrumental flourish. This band is at its best when it's at its saddest.

On this EP, that's "Jessamine and I" and "Foolish," two whiskey-flavored laments aided by ace dynamics and powerful background wails from new Bloodshot Records signee Lydia Loveless. Songs like these will keep you warm for the remainder of winter.


Harvest Kings trod similar territory on last fall's "Cardboard Crowns," though with more optimism and less nuance. John Joseph must not have suffered as much heartbreak as his friend May, or at least he's dealing with it better. Even when he sings about "a black cloud hanging over our lives," it comes in the form of a plucky mid-tempo rocker.

Despite the overt twang aesthetic, there's a '90s radio rock undercurrent pulsing through Harvest Kings' music. For better or worse - OK, for worse - opener "Down Shift and Glide" calls to mind Matchbox 20's "3 a.m."

Big finish "Last Breath" is built around a plucked electric guitar part that reminds me of Silverchair's "Tomorrow," and it eventually rises into some Slash-style soloing without ever losing its groove.

It all feels a bit cheesy and dated, especially in light of Mooncussers' superior offering.