Album Review

Son Volt, ‘American Central Dust’

July 13, 2009
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Son Volt American Central Dust
ESSENTIAL “Cocaine and Ashes’’

I don’t know what the title of Son Volt’s new album is supposed to mean, but it’s perfectly evocative. “American Central Dust’’ is a sturdy, rustic collection of roots music, comfortable to listen to as a back-porch jam but far less so to contemplate. As usual, singer and songwriter Jay Farrar has a few things on his mind, and his lyrics have grown more plain-spoken and potent with time. He tackles unmanageable love (“Dynamite’’), fossil fuels (“When the Wheels Won’t Move’’), and the stuff Keith Richards puts up his nose (“Cocaine and Ashes’’) with a mix of clarity and impressionism that eludes lesser writers. The music, which isn’t nearly as provocative as Farrar’s words or his band’s past two albums, suggests retrenchment. It’s as if he’s finally conceded the experimental turf to Jeff Tweedy and Wilco (Tweedy and Farrar founded the seminal alt-country band Uncle Tupelo) and opted to keep the home fires burning. That’s not a glamorous choice, but there’s a place in the world for plaintive rockers and languid waltzes, searing organs and pedal steel guitars. Farrar is a master of the craft. (Out now) JOAN ANDERMAN