If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry

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Marah’s David and Serge Bielanko belong to the city. They write tumbledown tales of drinks and dreams, about spending what you don’t have and discovering love under the glare of a bare lightbulb. Don’t say it. They acknowledge their debt to Springsteen. Even got him to guest on a record once. But their albums are all theirs, and If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry might be the most cohesive yet. Marah usually exists between trad rock, blues boogie and rambling country influence. But recording this album live in just a few takes makes its rangy rock much more focused. Stories still live in the lyrics, but the rhythms and lilting melodies in “Fat Boy,” “Demon of White Sadness” and the Dylan nod “Dishwasher’s Dreams” are direct hits. “City of Dreams” is more wistful, its slide guitar as distant and pretty as a life on easy street. And in “Walt Whitman Bridge,” David Bielanko finds solace in knowing that he at least used to have a lover and some cash. If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry is right: The Bielankos are romantics, but their salt-of-the-earth touch is inimitable.

Maybe it’s too commercialized, or maybe you and Jesus just don’t get along. But everyone gets the Christmas spirit eventually, even for just a moment, whether it’s by catching A Christmas Story on TNT or eating bread pudding by the gobful. Marah know this, and to celebrate they’ve issued an honest-to-goodness holiday record perfect for yuletide carousing. Christmas Kind of Town plays out like a whiskey-drunk Lawrence Welk special, complete with classics (“Let it Snow,” “Here We Come a Wassailing,” “Silver Bells”), a few spectacular originals, special guests (the Shalitas!), and even a few skits. It’s both heartwarming and irascible, like a few extra shots in your Christmas spirit.

Johnny Loftus writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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