Although Salamander have been together in one configuration or another since guitarists Sean Connaughty and Erik Wivinus first started collaborating in 1992, last year's Bent Hemlock is a promising new portent for a band usually welcomed more warmly on out-of-town radio stations and concert stages than in their hometown. (Their record label is located in Australia.) A mix of the mossy, the creaky, and the downright fresh, Hemlock starts with the acidly bittersweet Brit-folk plaint "Galleon" (sung by middle-school prodigy Madeline Westby), and ends with the wheezy, weary modal drones of "An Open Transom." In between, the band waves to Leonard Cohen, nods to Nuggets, and winks at Spacemen 3 without really sounding like any of them. And their low profile masks a veritable anthill of activity. Wivinus recently embarked on a solo East Coast tour, Dave Onnen and Matt Zaun play in Blitzen, and Connaughty's 2004 solo disc, Five Hands Tall, was a haunting slab of brain-bent verbal improvising. Plus, the band members provide much of the musical and logistical support for the now annual Heliotrope music festival. It just goes to show, you don't have to be seen on the scene to have a powerful, positive effect on it.


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