Son Volt 

American Central Dust

Rounder Records

American Central Dust sounds pleasant enough. Jay Farrar's rich and nuanced vocal delivery mingles smoothly with strings played well at a mid-tempo beat, but this music is best enjoyed while directing your attention elsewhere. Unfortunately, careful listening does not improve the experience.

Over its long life as Farrar's second-most-famous band, Son Volt has inspired many positive comparisons to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and there are two topical, stormy, guitar-driven songs on this album that merit the comparison: "Down to the Wire" and "When the Wheels Don't Move." Both songs are good, but not great. Expressing fears and doubts about economic, industrial and environmental collapse, Farrar ventures into Young's lyrical wheelhouse, and Farrar can't compete. Many songs recall other, better songs by better artists. "Sultana" is Son Volt's "Edmund Fitzgerald," but here again, Farrar proves himself to be no Gordon Lightfoot.

Farrar's lyrics are hopelessly strained, employing jumbled phrasing and repackaged clichés like "every Don Quixote must have his day" in "Roll On." "Dust of Daylight," a traditional country slow-dance, is the only song with a successful chorus. So, please, enjoy this album—just try not to listen to it.

Son Volt plays the University Theatre Saturday, July 25, at 8 PM with Cowboy Junkies. $29.

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