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PHOTO BY BIL ZELMAN CULTURE CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK Denizens of Denton by S THE 21ST CENTURY BEGAN, THE music industry was inching its way toward a classic-rock revival, with underground bands like the White Stripes reacquainting indie-rock fans and musicians with the rau cousness of the blues. When Southern rockers Kings of Leon went platinum in 2008 with Only by the Night, however, the inching was over, and the time for triumphant stomping had arrived. The shamelessly outsized power chords, howling vocals and scraggly beards that made the ’70s such an invigorating and bloated time were once again mainstream. The members of the Denton band Midlake have the facial hair and reverence for tradition necessary for any good retro-rock outfit, but that’s where their similarity to most ’70s revivalists ends. For one thing, they make music that’s completely free of bombast. Their influences aren’t Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd or Black Sabbath, but ’70s soft-rock troubadours like Fleetwood Mac and America. They enjoy acoustic guitars and close harmonies. Several of their songs feature the flute. Their newest album, The Courage of Others, comes out this week on indie label Bella Union. On it, singer-songwriter Tim Smith and his group take their love of acoustic traditionalism past vintage pop into more obscure territory, conjuring the pastoral imagery and courtly harmonies of near-forgotten ’60s British folk revival heroes like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. With its hypnotic vocals, baroque instrumental counterpoints, and mystical lyrics about frozen woods and dying seasons, The Courage of Others maps an ancient, melancholic world. When Smith sings, “I will let the FEBRUARY 5, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23