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Monsters of Folk

Monsters of Folk
SHANGRI-LA

So, are they like the Traveling Wilburys, throwing together funny pastiches? Not quite. But Jim James, M. Ward, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis have avoided the unfortunate mediocrity of ’90s supergroup Little Village, who politely deferred to each other and compromised individual strengths. Nobody really expected an egoless set from any band featuring Oberst, and Ward is expert at slyly shaping records while seeming to hang back. James steps forward with great ease, and he arguably gets the most mileage from this collaborative set. Still billing himself as “Yim Yames,” he leads the most magnetic rocker (“Losin’ Yo Head”) and conveys plenty of character over the arc of the 15 tracks — particularly with the God-themed framing tracks. The three Americana superstars here show that they love their own voices, and producer Mogis allows that to drain some power off the arrangements (e.g., no great James solo, Ward is sometimes just one of the guys). Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable blend of quirky trade-offs and mutual support among uber-talented not-truly-folksters.