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Nik and the Central Plains' new CD draws from far, wide

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By Rege Behe
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
 

Nik Westman is a straightforward guy, not one to embellish his credentials. But past press reports have misinterpreted some of his statements; notably that he was heavily influenced by Indian music, and that he wrote a book about the cuisine of the central plains of Pennsylvania. Neither is true.

"There's so much misinformation," Westman says with laugh.

What's not at all questionable is Westman's talent. His band, Nik and the Central Plains, will release its new CD, "Walk on Beaches," with shows Friday and Saturday at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville.

Westman describes the music as "straight-up, three-piece, garage folk rock." That might be technically accurate, but mere words don't do justice to the sweep of the music. Think Calexico by way of Camper Van Beethoven, with elements of Wilco, Crazy Horse and Steve Wynn and the Miracles, and you'll start to approximate the band's sound.

But only start.

Westman, 28, of Aspinwall, released an eponymously titled album with bandmates Kraig Decker (bass) and Colin Bronnenkant (drums) in 2010. "Nik and the Central Plains" was merely "a collection of songs," he says. "This one is the band. This is the guys I've been playing with for three years. It's more representative of the band. The last one wasn't really what we sound like."

Each song on "Walk on Beaches" is fleshed out with small touches. The spare, acoustic "Kickin' Leaves" is augmented by slide guitar and chimes. "Arctic Dance" starts with a frenetic blare before segueing into a hypnotic maze of mellow guitar rock. "Paul and Jen," the closest Westman gets to a pop song, is leavened by the accordion of Ross Raider. Other guest musicians, including vocalist and violinist Sara Siplak and guitarist Tom Demagall, add texture throughout.

Westman isn't quite sure where his musical diversity comes from. Born in Sweden, he lived in Los Angeles until he graduated from high school and moved to Pittsburgh.

"I also lived in Hawaii for a year and I got into a lot of drumming," he says. "I was around a lot of island jams. And I'm a skateboarder, so, watching a lot of skating videos, you get into a lot of different styles."

If there's a mood that best describes "Walk on Beaches," it's manic. Westman draws mostly from his own experiences for material, as in the semi-autobiographical title song, which is punctuated with flourishes of trumpet and vocals reminiscent of David Byrne's.

"When I listen to (the album), there are a lot of suggestions that people are crazy," Westman says. "It deals a lot with people's emotions."

Additional Information:

Nik and the Central Plains CD release shows

With: Harlan Twins, Chet Vincent & Big Bend on Friday; Meeting of Important People and Boca Chica on Saturday

When: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Admission: $10

Where: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville

Details: 412-682-0177 or website

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