With his debut album, "I Am the Man You Know I'm Not," Ronnie Fauss showed strong songwriting skills that could elicit a smile as easy as break your heart. Clearly, he'd been taking notes while listening to his songwriting heroes like John Prine. With his new release, Fauss has cranked up the volume, morphing into a full-blown country-rock sound. "Built to Break" may be a bit louder than its predecessor, but it's still filled with well-written gems.
The opening pair of "Another Town" and "A Natural End" launch the album with a sonic punch that the previous one lacked. Underneath the electric guitars, though, are the same insightful and sharp - albeit sad and dark - words that makes Fauss such a compelling singer/songwriter. Since the combination of smart lyrics and loud volume can also describe the Old 97s, it makes sense that front man Rhett Miller shows up as a guest for "Eighteen Wheels," a rocking, rolling song that sounds like something from the 97's own catalog.
"Built to Break" is not a full-blown rock fest, and the quietest moments are among the best. "The Big Catch" is a heartbreaking tale of family dysfunction. The closing number, "Come on Down," pays tribute to the working-class spirit while acknowledging the difficulties they face. It's an honest depiction that's hard to come by in contemporary music these days.
Fauss had proved that he was a talented songwriter with his debut album and the EPs that came before it. "Built to Break" builds upon that reputation, and Fauss and co-producer Sigurdur Birkis deserve credit for creating a fully fleshed-out sound that complements the words.