Jay Farrar's Summerteeth sucked. When the Son Volt frontman — once a member of Uncle Tupelo with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy — tried to branch out from Americana with 2007's The Search (which featured electric piano, backward loops, a horn section, and electric bouzouki) it didn't go nearly as well as when his former bandmate did it a decade ago. Fortunately, Farrar returns to the distinctively twangy folk tunes with the just-released American Central Dust. It's a welcome comeback but markedly toned down from releases such as Trace and Wide Swing Tremolo. The bulk of the album evokes a scene from a Western, when the cowboy hero realizes he's alienated his wife and his family and his horse and is going to have to go it alone. The sound may make for a good fit with Cowboy Junkies, Son Volt's current touring mates, who never really tried a Summerteeth of their own. Whether it's the one song casual listeners know them for — their cover of Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" — or anything the band has written since, the Junkies specialize in slow-moving but emotionally loaded laments. Neither band is quite as exciting as it was in the '90s, but with any luck, bringing together two of the last bands left standing from the rise of alt-country could reignite some of that magic.
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