With the Pink Zep comparisons a year behind them now, local ex-pats Secret Machines can get on with the business of revealing their true selves...with songs by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Berry Gordy Jr.? Seriously? You'd be forgiven for missing the joke, since there isn't one on this six-track stopgap EP, half of which is made up of originals. It's straightforward, if not exactly straight-ahead, and done with a totally straight face. That tact doesn't hurt their take on Morrison's "Astral Weeks" but doesn't help it, either. The magic leaks out just a little as they turn Morrison's mystical music into space-age soul. Slightly less compelling is their take on "Money (That's What I Want)," which takes twice as long to perform as usual because the boys draaaaaaag it out as though they've forgotten the ending. (The new songs, though, especially the buoyant "Better Bring Your Friends," make up in spark what "Money" lacks in spunk.) But it's their rendition of "Girl From the North Country" that's the real revelation: It's moody but not mopey, country-folk done by city fellas who find in the melody room enough to dip and soar and crash and discover in the lyrics the desperate longing for which Dylan grasped without quite putting in the palm of his sweaty hand. What was once merely beautiful is now absolutely haunting.
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