American Central Dust

Jay Farrar’s voice is a dry, dusty wind that blows across towns and prairies, picking up pieces of the landscape and spinning them out into designs of American life. He’s been honing this skill since his days in the alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, a trio that also featured Jeff Tweedy. When Tweedy left to form Wilco and focus on rock and pop, Farrar planted himself firmly in the musical soils that raised up generations of songwriters from Woody Guthrie to Neil Young to Leadbelly. His voice is mournful and yearning and reveals an intelligence hewn from experience and hardships.

It’s apt that his band’s new effort is entitled American Dust; this music sounds like it might have been pulled down from your Granddaddy’s top shelf after years of discard. However, these lyrics are timeless because no generation has a corner on lost jobs, lost love, lost paradise, lost opportunities. Of course Mr. Farrar updates our daily challenges. “When The Wheels Don’t Move” is a rumbling ballad of our society’s dependence on the very technologies that endanger our planet. “Men’s power over nature/hubris and greed let the fossil fuels burn/no way to keep the wings in flight/when the turbine engines don’t move.” As the music builds to climax Farrar’s voice never falters, never gives in to emotion – just stating the facts, maam.

Farrar doesn’t give up on the past, either. “Sultana” is a historical narrative about the worst maritime disaster in American history, which took place on the Mississippi in 1865. He offers the broken-hearted love waltz “Dust of Daylight” a song that features alls those great standard instruments of a fine old country song – steel guitar, fiddle and snare drum. “Jukebox of Steel” is an up-paced alt-rocker.

A fun surprise is “Cocaine and Ashes” inspired by Keith Richard’s infamous confession about snorting cocaine that was mixed with his late dad’s ashes. Come to think of it, there’s a little bit of Richard’s influence in the guitar work of several songs. Mostly, American Central Dust tips its dusty cap to those who wrote the songs that have become the canon of American folk music.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)