CD Review: The Builders and the Butchers' Salvation, and Steelo's Music For the Ladies

The R&B duo is as diverse as the scene that spawned it.

The Builders and the ButchersSalvation Is a Deep Dark Well (Gigantic Records)It's safe to say that Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well, the Builders and the Butchers' sophomore release, lives in the shadows of its predecessor. Inferior sound quality aside, the group's self-titled debut album was a twangy, bloody masterpiece rife with religious imagery and boot-stomping banjo breakdowns. In an attempt to avoid the sophomore slump, the band chose not to mess with a good thing, recording a follow-up so similar that many of its songs employ the same structures, melodies, and rhythms heard on the first album. And of course, songwriter Ryan Sollee's obsession with death, the devil, and old-time religion shows no sign of abating.Still, it's not fair to call Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well merely a carbon copy. A bolder, more prominent brass presence distinguishes the second album from its older sonic sibling. "Hands Like Roots" forays into unprecedented hard-edged rock-guitar licks, while "The Wind Has Come" features a grandiose string section that's more orchestral than the band's bluegrass-fiddle work of yore. Yes, the changes are subtle, but they're the mark of a group that aspires to alter its sound in deliberate, measured increments. While the band could stand to get a little more adventurous next time around, erring on the side of caution yielded a solid, if somewhat predictable, result. SARA BRICKNERThe Builders and the Butchers perform at Sonic Boom Records in Ballard at 3 p.m. on Sat., June 27. Free. All ages.SteeloMusic (Steelo Ent)If anything gets less exposure than Seattle's underpublicized R&B scene, it's the fact that multicultural artists are a part of it. But with a half-Iranian, half-Mexican rapper and an Italian-American crooner, Steelo are trying to change that. After teaming up five years ago in Bellingham, the now-Seattle-based R&B-boy tandem are creating club jams tailored for the ladies. On their impressive debut album, Music, rapper A.Uno and singer Bobby K aim straight for mainstream audiences with radio-friendly jams that don't bore as much as one would expect.The club single "Make Up My Mind" hits like something 112 would have crafted in their heyday, and the title track has a perfect summertime feel. Bobby K, a Poulsbo native, has an oddly-placed vocal range reminiscent of early Usher recordings; juxtaposed with A.Uno's suave rapping and harmonizing, the mixture works surprisingly well. You can even hear Persian influences on the song "Lift Ya," with Middle Eastern tinkerings and sprinkles of Farsi in the last verse.At first, the music's R&B/pop aspect seems a little too Clear Channel for Seattle, but if the album will help show how diverse the city's music scene is, it's a welcome addition. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAM

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