FALLEN BIRDS - Mark Steiner (Stagger Records)
Bits and pieces about American-Norwegian singer-songwriter Mark Steiner started filtering through a few months ago and this proves that it's all justified. Steiner draws a dark, bluesy veil over this six-track EP on French label Stagger with his rich vocal, expansive arrangements and intimate production.

It's arrived, in CD form, in time for his inaugural Australian tour on which he'll be joined by a who's who of the local lounge-noir musical underground.

"Fallen Birds" is a wonderful, sometimes quirky, melodramatic and always engaging blend of late-night swamp-lounge. Steiner assembles a sympathetic - and empathetic - crew of French, Norwegian, German and American players. Sax, violin and female vocals mix it with the more predictable rock band elements, but on the whole the band(s) goes for understatement and feel.

Steiner himself played with Kundera and Piker Ryan in Manhattan before re-locating to Norway. French (and Australian) scanners of CD credits might recognise Dimi Dero of Dimi Dero Inc on drums (he also issued this on his own imprint.) There are no less than 13 collaborators on board on this EP. Steiner maintains bands in three continents.

In Australia, Steiner will be joined by Lilith Lane (Black Pony Express), bassist Rosie Westbrook (Mick Harvey), Cam Butler (Silver Ray), Pete Luscombe (drums) and Stevie Hesketh of Jet (!) so that gives you an idea of where the music's coming from. Wider reference points would be Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds or Hugo Race.

On half the tracks Steiner works closely with pianist Lisa Barel, whose glistening work and powerful voice elevate things to a higher plane. Viola ("Wallspotting") and sax ("Drunk") are employed There's no bad track here; flashes of the Velvets shine through "Wallspotting" with its rolling piano, while spidery guitar sets off "Unbearable" with Steiner and Barrel swapping verses. The Bukowski blues strut of "Drunk" turns things up-tempo, while the closing croon of "Cigarettes" brings down the curtain at 5am in a bleary-eyed bar.

If you can't wait till the gigs or don;t think you'll cross paths with Mark Steiner and one of his bands, you can grab a copy at CDBaby. - The Barman