The National have worn a lot of hats since their 2001 debut, but they’ve never been able to shake the rural, book-smart, quiet malevolence of the Midwest. The Brooklyn-groomed, Ohio-bred indie rock quintet’s fifth full-length album navigates that lonely dirt road where swagger meets desperation like a seasoned tour guide, and while it may take a few songs to get going, there are treasures to be found for patient passengers. The National's profile rose considerably after 2007’s critically acclaimed The Boxer, and they have used that capital to craft a flawed gem of a record that highlights their strengths and weaknesses with copious amounts of red ink.
Al Caiola’s mastery of the guitar was always abundantly clear, both in his recordings as a studio musician and in his stage performances, and it is just as self-evident in these two albums and in his relationship with the two solid jazz groups that accompany him on them. "High Strung" was recorded in 1959, and without climbing way out on a limb, Al and his supporting cast of guitars—George Barnes, Al Cassamenti, Don Arnone, John Pizzarelli, and Billy Bauer—set new ideas to a solid swinging beat in “electrifying” up-tempo evergreens and a couple of his own compositions, backed by an excellent rhythm section.