Marah used to be an easy band to fall in love with. Their first two albums were shambling folk rock masterpieces held together with duct tape and bubble gum, and their sweaty live shows were equally legendary. But the Philly band took a Brit-pop-inspired turn for the worse with 2002's Float Away with the Friday Night Gods, alienating half their fans in the process. Last year's 20,000 Streets Under the Sky was touted as a return to form, but it still sounded a little too slick for a band who made their name with a debut recorded on a beat-up eight-track. Thankfully, If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry is the real deal, recorded live in the studio and brimming with the same energy that made Marah so fun to listen to in the first place. "The Hustle" is a head-bobbing rocker that's equal parts Replacements swagger and Costello ear candy, and the finger-picked "Out of Tune" shows singer Dave Bielanko learned a thing or two the night he got drunk with Townes Van Zandt. His brother Serge turns in fine performances as well, particularly on the Faces-style shuffle "Sooner or Later," which the band apparently nailed in one glorious take. The album's rollicking, carefree vibe also carries over to the band's other new LP this week, A Christmas Kind of Town, and while it may seem strange for a rock band to record an entire Christmas album in this day and age, the holiday material suits Marah's drunken Phil Spector aspirations perfectly. The mix of covers, Christmas originals and goofy, poorly acted skits makes for fun listening, especially when the band is joined by friends like The Shalitas, a '60s-style girl group who will have you thinking you've entered a yuletide peppermint time warp.
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