Something sounds different right from the start on the latest release from renowned oddball popster Robyn Hitchcock. The gently exquisite and entrancing acoustic guitar intro on the first track may sound eerily familiar to Americana fans; indeed, the pickers are none other than Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. But Hitchcock quickly steers the proceedings into his own inevitably quirky territory by chiming in with a charmingly Robyn-esque opening statement: "Binga-bonga-bing, bong, bing, bong." He proceeds to declare his romantic love for a television set, and we're off.
Welch and Rawlings, quite fortuitously, contribute more than just an initial cameo. They're Hitchcock's collaborators throughout Spooked, which may be the most universally listenable album he's ever made. The muted but mellifluous quality of their musicianship serves as a surprisingly fertile foil for Hitchcock's trademark offbeat wanderings, which touch on such topics as demons and fiends, ocelots and meerkats and living in trees (though he also plays it remarkably straight on the lost-love ballad "English Girl"). A ringer near the end is a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tryin 'to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door."