The Upshot: A contemplative, at times remarkably downcast, record, but one which brings with it a recurring whiff of redemption—like a cinematic travelogue.
BY FRED MILLS
There’s an aesthetic intensity, leavened by a delicacy of purpose, at play on Sonoma, Calif., singer-songwriter Garrett Pierce’s fourth full-length, the product of his bearing down for an extended period of time last year in his newly-constructed home studio—and as a result, being able to emerge with a precise musical statement not always available to artists forced to watch, budget-consciously, the clock. Pierce, who freely admits to being primarily inspired by literary figures (he singles out Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Brautigan—the latter, full disclosure, among yours truly’s personal heroes), is also willing to express admiration for progenitors and peers such as Elliot Smith, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Will Oldham, and Jeff Buckley.
The latter, in fact, comes to mind more than once while listening to the masterful Dusk, not necessarily as sonically similar; Buckley was given to multi-octave swoops, while Pierce is far less operatic, though still able to command the wings of Pegasus when the material calls upon him to soar. Instead, there’s a daredevil quality that emerges in places, such as during “Enough,” a haunting, almost hymnal elegy for lap steel (courtesy Pierce’s collaborator Timothy James Wright) and drone that allows Pierce to explore, with uncommon sensitivity, the metaphysics of enforced homelessness and eventual farewell to a friend.
Elsewhere on Dusk we encounter gentle, lilting Americana (the banjo-powered “Distant Thought,” which would not be out of place in an Avett Brothers set); a dark, minor-chord waltz (mini-drama “Get Me Out Of This Place,” as much a plea for forgiveness as for freedom, the song’s institutionalized protagonist explaining, “All your psychologists can’t clean this up/ This mess has been made by Jesus’ son/ Holy in camouflage—you know we are one”); and the strummy, part-forward looking, part-regretful closing track “This Town of Mine,” a kind of farewell song (“If this be a mistake, well I sure enjoyed the ride”) that manages to leave its creator and his future open-ended.
It’s a contemplative, at times remarkably downcast, record, but one which brings with it a recurring whiff of redemption—like a cinematic travelogue, no fixed ending, but full of potential. As is Pierce’s future.
DOWNLOAD: “This Town Of Mine,” “Distant Thought,” “Enough”