JOLENE The Pretty Dive (Blue Rose)

Jolene are a North Carolina quintet, whose fourth album, "The Pretty Dive", arrives wrapped in images from Lynn Ramsey's astonishing film "Ratcatcher". That's enough to make me recommend you go seek out this fine CD immediately: the fact that Jolene play intriguing, intelligent college alt-rock that demonstrates kinship with early R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs and especially The Go-Betweens and The Tragically Hip is the icing on the cake.

"The Pretty Dive" is an understated album: nothing on here will cause you to leap around your lounge in tears of euphoria, but it works on a deeper, layered level, these eleven compositions being enfolded with craftsmanship and cleveration. It's no surprise to learn that John Crooke - who contributes excellent, pleading, plaintive lead vocals - made his first contact with modern music by finding an unlabelled tape of R.E.M.'s "Fables Of The Reconstruction" in a dumpster, because Jolene's music is almost entirely defined by that kind of trashed eloquence. And the surprises keep on coming: "Cheap Day Nocturne" weds Jethro Tull's "Cheap Day Return" to a Chopin melody, and the press release reveals that Jolene's debut album was released by Ardent, the record company who can take the greater share of the blame for the fact that Big Star aren't as famous as The Beatles by failing to distribute that band's albums properly.

Engaging as "The Pretty Dive" undoubtedly is, I sense that what Jolene would really benefit from is a spell in a studio with a producer who can really tease out their many qualities and light them in such a way that their excellence becomes obvious, rather than merely inherent. Given his track record I would imagine Dave Fridmann would be perfect for the job, but until such a dream collaboration arises cling to "The Pretty Dive" as an example of great music that makes absolutely no concessions to a dumbed-down marketplace.