Small Gifts 

Like leftover presents, some of Richmond's harder to find talents are worth digging for.

Since Spokane's first outing three releases ago with "Leisure and Other Songs," Alverson seems to be going for a balance of complexity and accessibility. Though in truth this music largely rides the mournful violin of Karl Runge, what we get on "Able Bodies" is Alverson's closest reach to songwriting perfection to date, with song after song lamenting the passing of time, while celebrating the simple beauty of an artfully invented melody. Though already in stores last spring, the album suits this dark and wet winter much better.

Broken Hips "Broken Hips" (self-released)

One of the most impressive, but least talked about, songwriting comes from the husband and wife duo Bryan and Jess Hoffa. They began creating this band's dark and deep pool of temperamental pop music in 1999 with Phil Murphy, an original member from the early days when he and Jess were known simply as Toothpick.

Other contributors, including people you'll recognize like coronetist Paul Watson and percussionist Jim Thomson, show up for this self-titled first release. Such disparate sounds as Watson's horn and the forlorn quality of Jess Hoffa's rare musical saw makes this band's music a breath of fresh air from the legions of guitar, bass and drum combos.

VCU Jazz "It Could Happen to You" (self-released)

Some of the best jazz instructors in the state reside at Virginia Commonwealth University, as evidenced by this recent release by the school's faculty/student small groups, like the Jazz Orchestra I and the Faculty Jazz Septet.

Though this is not groundbreaking stuff, the disc represents an energetic repertoire of the performing talents honed at the school. Impressive for the most part, gems like Clifford Brown's "Daahoud," as well as some newer numbers, were laid down in one or two takes. This is a great introduction to some of the city's talent, many of the people you'll find in the smattering of smoky live jazz venues around town.

John Moossa "Last Night" (self-released)

Maybe when you can't think of a good band name you rely on your own, or maybe using your own name is an attempt to brand a certain sound. Whatever originality points John Moossa might lose in some people's view for his band's boring name, he recovers with a new disc that rises above most of the roots-driven Dave Matthews followers.

Moossa's weathered singing voice is unusual enough to make him stand out, but what also helps his cause here is the plethora of local talent on this release, from the subtle horn work by Steve Norfleet and Gordon Jones to the overarching backup vocals by Nancy Waldman and others.

One Ring Zero "Memorandum" (Urban Geek Records)

If Jean-Pierre Jeunet is listening, he might find in One Ring Zero the perfect composers for his next peculiar French film. Former Richmonders Joshua Camp and Michael Hearst, currently the house band for the McSweeney's crew in New York, recently released another full-length album by their eclectic project, One Ring Zero.

A follow-up to 1999's "Tranz Party," this disc also showcases Hearst and Camp's skills at writing weird pop songs and their love of composing them with some of the oddest instruments ever used for pop music, like the accordion, Theremin and the extremely rare claviola. Don't expect the project — which includes songs like "Afrodo," "Cheetoh Limbo" and "Rock Songs at the Hog Farm" — to always make sense, but, as a whole, it is an unusual example of talent gone wonderfully awry. S


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