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Mike Gaito, Beard Of Bees 

(Self-released, CD)

The real buzz around Vermonter Mike Gaito's perfectly baffling solo debut Beard of Bees doesn't come from Gaito's facial hair, but from his inventive interlacing of folk, prog rock and jazz.

Consider that a compliment. Where else can you hear the musical tale of a Cuban-cigar-smoking, flask-guzzling emu named Hobart? And let's not ignore the liner notes, in which Gaito refers to a bunny-rabbit intern named Art, whom he describes as "a good kid," but "way too verbose in his email correspondence." It's strange, for sure, but also strangely endearing.

Gaito's lyrics sometimes verge on Steely Dan-esque obscurity, such as on "Asparagus and Glass." Still, more often than not, his tunes tell a story, albeit a heavily imagistic one. "A feeble reach only speeds my descent / I give my consent to be / gnawed and eaten whole," he croons.

Then there's ". . . the sometimes terrifying realities of getting exactly what you want . . ." with its melée of acoustic and electric riffs, layered vocals and odd, if effective, time signatures. In this way, Gaito subverts his own sweetness, employing an unusual meter, a bluesy electric solo and a collage of cringe-worthy vocal trills. His call-and-response singing sounds like an argument between a laid-back islander and a panicked tourist, but it somehow works.

There are a few things on this marathon of an album that don't work, however. Remember Art the bunny? His eponymous track plays like a pop song at an eighth-grade dance, its melody more punch bowl than pony keg.

"The Fogged Frame" and "The Oar" are two epics worth sitting through, but the timing and feel jump back and forth from pool to Jacuzzi several times, leaving the listener a little waterlogged.

The unusual song structures on Beard of Bees paint Gaito as a prog rocker in a folk singer's body - or perhaps it's the other way around. By the end of the album, my ears felt like a pitcher's arm after seven solid innings.

Although Gaito can be somewhat longwinded, his creativity and humor trump any "What the fuck?" feeling you might have upon first pressing play. If anything, Beard of Bees reminds us that originality usually seems weird at first. And Gaito is definitely a weirdo.

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Dave Sachs

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