PRISONSHAKE: Dirty Moons [Scat]

In a better, more just universe, Prisonshake would be currently shimmying in the Hold Steady’s shoes. Judging from the sprawling, smudged rock ’n’ roll genius of long-awaited double album Dirty Moons, the St. Louis group certainly possesses Craig Finn and Co.’s brand of true-believer guts and passion. Alas, apart from Prisonshake’s native Cleveland (where the band members were once regarded as demigods and the daddies of the underground scene, thanks to guitarist Robert Griffin’s Scat imprint), the band has remained a somewhat closely guarded secret among Midwestern rock snobs. Culled from sporadic recordings made between 1995 and 2007, Dirty Moons is a few years too late—Prisonshake’s last album was 1993’s The Roaring Third—but it’s far from a few dollars short. These two discs eke out more than a few original moves from a primarily trad-rock configuration, but violin, cello and keyboard make occasional appearances. Witness the faux-free jazz of “Fake Your Own Death,” the Porgy And Bess-style overture of “Janus,” the Sonic Youth-y rage of “Go Blind” and the acoustic-strum-turned-electric-angularity of “It Was A Very Good Year.” Like a time capsule exhibiting the freewheeling creativity of Prisonshake’s late-’80s/early-’90s heyday, Dirty Moons shines a light on a sound and sensibility—an unsung side of last decade’s alt-rock nation—that, until now, we didn’t even realize we’d been missing. [www.scatrecords.com]

—Kimberly Chun