Chris Grabau has led Magnolia Summer through three albums, each one further refining his vision of direct, heartfelt American music. But with this year's Lines From the Frame, Grabau and his bandmates have perfected the balance between plangent guitar rock and delicate introspection. On Lines, the Superchunk-meets-Son-Volt rock of "Like Setting Suns" glides into the string-laden "Diminished Returns," a song that culminates in a flurry of overdriven guitar and fiddle arpeggios. The musicians rarely miss a step on Magnolia Summer records, but it is Grabau's lyrics that warrant repeated listens. His narrators seem perpetually unsettled, caught between duties and dreams, but he never fails to wrap bare emotions in smartly worded, poetically phrased lyrics, as on the acoustic ballad "Birds Without a Wire." Lines From the Frame has won over critics in Ireland, Denmark and Italy — it seems the rest of the world is learning what St. Louis music fans have known for some time.
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