The second full album from Nick Dittmeier & the Sawdusters is an enjoyable southern country rock romp, offering a varied selection of lively toe-tapping songs and melodic, reflective pieces. What holds it all together is Dittmeier’s authentic storytelling. These ten character-driven tales are packed with arresting details and bear repeated listening. The opening track ‘Love Me Like You Did’ starts and finishes with the vocal, drawing the listener in immediately and ensuring the focus is on the lyrics. The song’s narrator complains about his new lover: “She don’t understand Townes Van Zandt…She don’t know me like you did,” which seems to make an early statement about Dittmeier’s country credentials.
The opener sets the tone for much of the album. Jaunty, upbeat rhythms and melodies often mask bleak lyrics and sharp phrasing, such as: “He worked real hard and he worked real smart, Got a pretty good spot at the city graveyard” from ‘Head to Rest’. The longer, more introspective songs are punctuated by short, rocky numbers with a higher tempo and simpler structures, including the title track, which chugs along, while Dittmeier sings about hard physical labour and: “…hammering rocks, all damn day.”
One of the album’s highlights is the reflective tale ‘Two Faded Carnations’, in which the narrator visits a family cemetery to lay carnations at the graves of: “The only one I’ve ever loved and the daughter I never met.” But the song is ultimately hopeful because: “Spring’s around the corner, I can feel it in the wind, it rips right down a soy bean plain and the rows grow strong again.””
This is ‘country’ music and so it is only right that Dittmeier’s stories are full of references to rural living and landscapes. The characters are chopping wood, sitting on porches, fishing, staking out deer and complaining about the: “Red tail hawk by the chicken coup.” This reflects Dittmeier’s southern Indiana roots and upbringing along the banks of the Ohio River. The river is central to ‘City of God’, a song about the Ohio River flood of 1937. This is another example of a song full of narrative detail swept along by a strong vocal melody, the snare drum and layers and flourishes of guitar and piano.
The album closes with a contrasting, acoustic song ‘Many Stones’. It’s a strong, melodic finish full of bleak images of names on stones and a mother waiting for her daughter, who is found face-down in the water after a storm. As much as these songs mirror the rural landscapes in which they were written, they resonate with the tragedy and loss in Dittmeier’s personal life and are all the more powerful as a result.