The Desdamona guest spot was foreseeable, but how about Talib Kweli and Twista?

Next-gen Twin Cities R&B band the New Congress snagged both of those big-name rap stars to contribute vocals to its sophomore disc, "Anguish, Love & Romance." Each of those performances -- recorded long-distance -- was arranged through friends of friends in the music biz, whom the hard-working sextet have been wooing for several years now.

But in the end, the guys in the band say the collaborations became more personal affairs, especially the one with Kweli, who rhymes through a couple verses in the title track.

"We sent him two tracks, and he e-mailed us back right away saying he dug our music and was really feeling 'Anguish, Love & Romance,'" keyboardist Russ King said. "The whole thing was done literally in about two weeks."

TNC's second album is the result of almost two years of writing and recording. You could also say the four years the group spent playing a weekly Thursday gig at Bunkers were part of the process, too.

Asked what the group took away from that arduous residency, which wound down at the start of the summer, frontman Aaron (Orange) Cosgrove joked, "An alcohol problem."

More seriously, "we got tight off those gigs," he said, "and we got to play in front of a lot of the veteran cats of the local [R&B/funk] scene who circulate around Bunkers, and who became some of our most important critics and supporters. It was all really valuable."

Cosgrove moved to the Cities from Duluth with other TNC members to become the backing band for Prince protégé Kip Blackshire, who has since moved to Los Angeles. The 30-year-old singer/guitarist was writing his own songs even while playing with Blackshire. As bandmate King said, "It got kind of frustrating playing someone else's songs when Aaron had his own, and we all knew they were good."

The lineup has expanded to include a DJ, Dudley D, and two female backup singers. On the new disc, the group tries on a variety of styles with mixed results, ranging from the dramatic John Legend-ish ballad "With Me," to the sleek Timbaland-style party-starter "Crucial," to the total horndog dance-floor track "Freak Show XXX" (the one with Twista). Local rapper/poet Desdamona, who has enlisted the band to back her on occasion, shows up in the reggaeton-tinged romp "Through It All."

TNC's CD-release party is tonight at the Fine Line.

Pines stand tall

The Pines have been playing around town for about five years with pretty decent success. When the lo-fi Americana/folk duo played the Electric Fetus the day their new album came out in August, though, something about them seemed sharply bolder and better, like that next level had clearly been attained.

Ben Ramsey, for one, is living up to his pedigree as the son of Iowa music hero Bo Ramsey, the way he worked his strings, slide and effects pedals to elicit summery, firefly-fluttery sounds from his guitar. Both he and cohort David Huckfelt have turned into uniquely Midwestern storytellers/songwriters, while Huckfelt's vocals have grown more soulful. And their MVP backers J.T. Bates and James Buckley have dutifully slipped into the background, a perfect kind of hypnotic rhythm section.

All of this was audible that day, as it has been over the past couple months listening to "Tremolo," the Pines' third disc and second for Red House Records, which they're finally getting around to promote again tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center with Spaghetti Western (8 p.m., $12-$15).

Once again produced by Ben's dad, it opens with the gritty, hopeless rambler "Pray Tell" (sample line: "Who pulled the stars down over my eyes?"), but things look up right away with the lovelorn beauty "Heart & Bones." After that, the songs weave between those two styles/worlds. Among the many standouts is the vividly poetic "Meadows of Dawn" and an organ-laced remake of Spider John Koerner's "Skipper and His Wife."

This could and should be the Pines' career-making album.

Random mix

Jonny Lang's old backing band, the Big Bang, will play its first show since 2000 Saturday at Bunkers (9:30 p.m., $10). Bassist Jeff Hayes now tours with Bernard Allison and guitarist Ted Hayes played with Lamont Cranston up until last year. ... Catlick Records marks its 21st anniversary Saturday at the Triple Rock with a reunion by its first band, Dairyland Youth, plus its current acts the Icy Shores, Caspian Depression and Bret Rodysill (10 p.m., $6)...

After his show Saturday, the next P.O.S. gig in town will be for Doomtree's Blowout 5, set for Dec. 5 at First Ave. Tickets also just went on sale for Curtiss A's John Lennon tribute there Dec. 8. ... Motion City Soundtrack announced an Oct. 30 gig at the Triple Rock, which will likely be sold out by the time you read this. ...

If the regular record conventions aren't old-school enough for you, Saturday's inaugural 78 Summit should take you back a few more decades (or a whole century). The event is a celebration of 78-rpm records, with different collectors bringing stuff to spin ranging from calypso to blues. It's happening 6 p.m.-2 a.m. at the Polish National Catholic School, 607 22nd Av. NE., Mpls. ...

With his single "Fireflies" going Top 40, Owl City (Owatonna's Adam Young) will perform at KDWB-FM's Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center on Dec. 6 alongside Jordin Sparks and 3oh!3. Surely that's a first: From the Cabooze to the Jingle Ball in 2 1/2 short months.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658