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Son Volt

American Central Dust – 2009 (Rounder)

Reviewed by David McPherson

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Jay Farrar's lyrical beauty takes center-stage in these dozen thought-provoking tracks. Once again, the songslinger delves into his America - past, present and future - to offer musings on the state of the world. Like a historian, Farrar paints pictures of important epochs and events in the past to understand the current climate.

Sultana is the perfect example where Farrar brings to light the greatest maritime disaster in American history - the explosion of the steamboat Sultana where an estimated 1,800 to 2,400 passengers perished. At the time, this tragedy received diminished coverage since it occurred not long after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Farrar captures this calamity calling the Sultana, "the Titanic of the Mississippi." Cocaine and Ashes ruminates on the destructive nature of drugs and Keith Richards, which is a theme that's been mined to death in modern music; yet, with Farrar's skilled songwriting hand and road-weary voice, this anti-drug song never falls victim to becoming cliched with choice words such as "I snorted my father and I'm still alive." Instead, this song is a heartfelt rumination. No Turning Back is a cross-country journey, where Farrar surveys the musical landscape of the U.S. referencing a famed bluesman's classic tune of discrimination; he sings, "Like Leadbelly says no use for a bourgeois town."

While "American Central Dust" is a more mellow affair instrumentally, it's lyrics are deep, making for Son Volt's best offering in years.