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Son Volt
Central American Dust - Rounder
FILTER Grade: 72%

By Stephen Humphries on December 18, 2009

 

Son Volt

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: a song that lambasts ethanol-based fuel. “Who makes the decision to feed the tanks and not the mouths?” Jay Farrar sings in “The Wheels Don’t Move.” A chronicler of heartland woes ever since he co-founded Uncle Tupelo, it’s only natural that the Illinois native should feel vested in the fate of America’s corn. On a rootsy album that feels like the soundtrack to a John Steinbeck novel, Farrar laments the lonely drift of doomed dreamers in “Roll On.” He also rails against the “pawns playing out the legacy of long dead industry titans” in “Down to the Wire,” a song with a chorus that unfurls in slow motion. If only the other melodies were as memorable. Central American Dust was made by the same lineup as 2007’s adventurous The Search, but where that record’s compass points veered from R.E.M. to Calexico, this one settles for regrettably generic high-plains fiddle and wistful sighs of pedal-steel guitar. Worse, Farrar’s heavy lidded vocals are more torpid than usual. Fortunately, the lyrics are eminently quotable. Funereal Keith Richards tribute, “Cocaine and Ashes,” marvels, “I snorted my father and I’m still alive” and concludes, “I’m the same as everyone…just kinda lucky.”

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