Dusty Stray is the adopted moniker of Jonathan Brown, a man raised in Texas who now lives in the Netherlands. ‘Estranged’ is his fifth album of low key (not lo-fi) songs which hover around the more Gothic edges of Americana somewhat akin to the work of Stephin Merritt with The Gothic Arches who released music to accompany the Lemony Snicket novels although Brown is less theatrical. Brown points to the writer and artist Edward Gorey as an influence and indeed one of the songs here is titled ‘Gorey Story’ which is basically a potted biography of the Cape Cod author.
The songs here all exist in a sort of twilight zone, that crepuscular moment when one is almost asleep. Brown’s soft voice lulls the listener while atmospheric instrumentation and sound effects softly shape the songs with accordion, a singing saw and odd electronic effects all fluffing up the pillow. There are moments when the music recalls the bucolic folk music of the early seventies with ‘Old and Gray’s rippling acoustic guitar and languid vocals similar to some of Roy Harper’s musings. The opening song, ‘You Couldn’t Wait to see me Cry’ with its folktronic delivery is a bit of a red herring as thereafter its acoustic guitar which underpins most of the songs. While there’s a sameness around much of these a couple of the songs do stand out with ‘Things Will Look Different’ a wonderful honky tonk tearjerker in the making while ‘Down’, a brief song with a fatalistic outlook is lifted by the faint electronic mumblings in the background. Best of all however is Brown’s fine encapsulation of a child’s fear that he will go to sleep and not wake up on ‘Window’.
It’s an odd album which evokes sadness and death with a childlike naiveté which is perhaps too old for children and a wee bit too naive for grownups.