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CD Review: Son Volt 

American Central Dust (Rounder)

Jay Farrar has been doing the same thing for close to 15 years now, but there's not much room for error. What is the risk of the alt-country singer — prettiness forever? When you sing like Farrar, whose voice one detractor memorably likened to an "electric can opener on low-battery," is there even that? So, judging by his whirr-not-purr and some early lyrics ("May the wind take your troubles away"), 2005's regrouped Okemah and the Melody of Riot was a small miracle. Anti-Bush tunes and use of sitar didn't make him interesting, but his tune sense improved, especially rocking out on "Who," "Afterglow 61" and "Six String Belief." The Search (from 2007) kept him afloat, if somewhat less memorably. That brings us to American Central Dust — "dust" not as in "Cocaine and Ashes" or "Dust of Daylight," but dusting off the same weary croak, gentle soft-to-loud dynamics and inoffensive chord changes. The yawning "Cocaine" and by-the-numbers "Down to the Wire" still research Springsteen's unplugged territory without finding a thing, but at least this one starts with a bang: The plaintively pretty "Dynamite" opens the album staked on a lovely accordion melody. Wilco 3.0, try as they might with their increasing trend toward "dad-rock," will never be as normal as this. — Dan Weiss

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