High Desert is the fourth album from Mars Arizona, the name Nicole Storto and Paul Knowles use when they're fashioning their brew of country, rock, and roll. As a matter of practice they're joined by some talented helpers including drummers Billy Block (Frank Black) and Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo and Wilco), fiddlers Ollie O'Shea (Hank Williams III) and Woody Vermeire, lap steel guitarist Paul Laques (I See Hawks In L.A.), and a host of others. Recorded in Nashville, Berkeley, and Cotati, California, the album features eight originals and some inspired covers, including a version of "Sweet Virginia" which rescues the song from the Stones' country-camp, a moving reading of Robert Hunter's "Must Have Been the Roses," and a vigorous reinterpretation of Neil Young's "For the Turnstiles." The originals, though, are good enough that the covers don't call attention to themselves, although it's worth noting that Knowles had a little help from Jack Kerouac in the lyrics to "Lookout Radio." Which makes sense: both writers are expressing complicated, adult themes in these songs and cloaking them in evocative melodies and highly atmospheric production. Grammy Award Winning Producer/Engineer Ray Kennedy (Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle) became involved in the project by mixing 'Lookout Radio' and 'High Desert' then mastering all of the songs on the album at his Room and Board Studios in Nashville, TN. Mars Arizona has been on the scene since 2003's Love Songs From the Apocalypse, and have drawn praise from Harp magazine, No Depression, and Nashville Scene, among others, the latter of whom noted their "haunted yet driving Americana." On previous albums, they've worked with the likes of David Grisman and Al Perkins, and Knowles said that it was the memory of the work Perkins did with the band 'Manassas' that gave them the clue for the eclectic sound that Mars Arizona found for High Desert. Their 2008 release, 'Hello Cruel World', was popular with Americana Radio, peaking at #33 on the Americana Radio Charts nationwide. Mars Arizona belongs to a small club of highly literate, socially concerned, artistically involved performers, and High Desert is their best work yet. And although you can't get to Mars Arizona from here, the good news is that they'll bring it to you: the band is touring to support High Desert and may well be performing at a venue near you soon. It's a trip worth taking.