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Halfway Down – 1998 (Puddledock)

Reviewed by Eric Zehnbauer

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CDs by Saltgrass

From the tiny Texas town of Trinity, Saltgrass introduces the listener to their world via 11 solid alt.-country tracks, mined heavily from the Uncle Tupelo/Steve Earle vein.

It's a world of heartache and despair, sung in an achingly plaintive tone that's very reminiscent of Jay Farrar. Max Rollo is an excellent songwriter, for the most part, although as he himself admits about one tune "Burned," he "just threw a bunch of lines together." Most of the lyrics, though, weave powerful pictures that draw the listeners in until they too feel the depth of emotion the singer feels. "Dust Tarnished Town," a modern eulogy for a dying rural town, rings painfully true with the singer's lamenting being stuck in the town "with a wife I don't love and a farm I can't sell." Even the one real love song, "Miriam," offers no hope, as the titular lover is forever out of the singer's reach.

This disc is generally softer in tone than a lot of the rock-influenced alt.-country, the majority of the tracks being acoustic. There is variety to the arrangements, though, and coupled with the strong lyrical effort, it's a joy from beginning to end.