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sisterly harmonies and aggressive pop
22 Brides (Zero Hour)
22 Brides

The group 22 Brides is mostly vocal duo Carrie and Libby Johnson, but before you truth-in-advertising freaks get your feathers ruffled, go talk to 10,000 Maniacs. I'd rather spend my time listening to the dozen songs that make up 22 Bride's self-titled new album.

Don't let that "vocal duo" tag mislead you; 22 Brides ain't your average folk-light Indigo Girl wannabees. Instead, they push those voices out in front of a surging tide of drums, guitars, bass, keyboards and the odd mandolin or violin, creating a sound that's mostly stainless steel, gleaming and tough.

The songs themselves are hard to pin down. Take "Wild in My Arms," which starts with what sounds like a snippet of tape played backwards, tumbles into a craggy percussive ballad, then kicks up its heels and raises some dust by the time the chorus arrives. Ballad? Rocker? All I know is that those stirring sibling harmonies and the tune's driving beat make it seem all too short.

This unpredictable mix propels the record through the brooding Celtic muscle of "Visions of You," the whirling dervish of "City of Brides," the moody R.E.M.-ish drift of "King for the Day," the lean pop of "Silence," the hard country-rock gallop of "David," the electric urgency of "Ghost House," the piano and violin delicacy of "You Do," the perfectly restrained ode to sisterhood "Harder than Nails," the INXS swagger of "Transparent," the ringing resignation of "What's So Wrong," and the lovely fragility of "Time Stands Still."

The lyrics tug at the edges of emotion and reason, phrases floating by on the breeze to resurface later like a small revelation and wrestled into memorable melodies by the strong, supple voices of the sisters Johnson. All of which makes 22 Brides one gem worth hearing.

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