Alt-country legends Uncle Tupelo broke up in 1994. That’s an important fact to note, because nearly every review of Son Volt—the band fronted by ex-UT vocalist/guitarist Jay Farrar—still mentions Wilco, the band fronted by ex-UT vocalist/bassist Jeff Tweedy. The constant linking of the pair is even more preposterous when you consider that the sound of each band has completely diverged in the last 15 years. That’s cemented with the release of Son Volt’s sixth studio album (and third since Farrar re-formed SV in 2005), American Central Dust.
- American Central Dust
- Beyond the Weekly
- Son Volt
Recorded at Farrar’s St. Louis studio, Dust feels like a Missouri summer; though occasionally too meandering, it’s always enveloped with warmth and sweetness. Molasses tempos, acoustic guitar and gentle pedal-steel abound—in fact, the album has its fair share of vintage-country and folk signifiers—but Dust isn’t a snoozefest. Opening track (and highlight) “Dynamite” is a melancholy roots-rock lament, while Neil Young’s bonfire-guitar shadow hovers over “When the Wheels Don’t Move.”
Lyrically, Dust is concerned with history and place, through references to St. Louis and New Orleans blues legends (“Pushed Too Far”), a nautical disaster on the Mississippi (“Sultana”) and Keith Richards snorting his father’s ashes (the standout piano ballad “Cocaine and Ashes”). Although Dust drifts too much in the middle, it ends on two high notes: The sleepy-eyed, organ-burnished “Strength and Doubt,” which brings to mind mid-period Red House Painters, and the twangy, upbeat rollick “Jukebox of Steel.”