The fateful Craigslist ad that brought songwriter and guitarist Lacie Mangels into the company of ex-Linemen Scott Swartz (guitar), Greg Lamb (bass) and John Baldus (drums) continues to pay dividends. After the appropriately titled Philology was released in 2011, careful listeners heard the grace in how Mangels' intricate turns of phrase and unblemished, plain-faced vocals lie atop gentle, melodic roots rock. With Weights & Measures, Prairie Rehab takes both more experimental and more conventional detours while maintaining an easy, steady sway.
Swartz, normally filling a supportive role on pedal steel, takes a few razor-sharp leads on the languid "Wait for It." Those guitar lines cut a shape into a song that floats ethereally, with some electric piano twinkles and Mangels' multi-tracked harmonies that open the tune with just the barest hint of Kate Bush lushness. That sense of mysticism gets fully fleshed out on the four-part song-suite "Augustine," a retelling of St. Augustine of Hippo's conversion with attention paid to the women in his life (his mother and mistress, specifically). Lyrically, Mangels' song cycle would seem to be the stuff of side-length prog-rock overtures: Visions appear, serpents tempt, paramours are scorned, empires fall, holiness and hedonism clash swords. But in Mangels' hands (and with the warm support of her bandmates) Prairie Rehab is able to tell an old story in new ways.
The stand-alone songs are a little less cumbersome, and the new flourishes on the band's sophomore release retain the twangy spirit at Prairie Rehab's core. The bouncy "Infinite Improvement" is as close as the band comes to straight-ahead pop, and the Funky Butt horns come in to underline that sentiment. Twenty years ago the similarly peppy "Scarce" could have made a bid for that sweet slice of contemporary country that Mary Chapin Carpenter came to exemplify; here, it shows that Mangels' thesaurus-level vocabulary can still work in the confines of a three-minute pop song.