Highly accomplished album features song of the year contender.
Ryan Gustafson had been making music for over a decade, touring as a guitarist with Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook and fronting his own band The Dead Tongues when, in the summer of 2020 and fed up with life as a musician Gustafson retreated to his remote cabin deep in the mountains of North Carolina. With thoughts of changing his name and leaving his identity as a musician behind it was only in the process of going through notebooks of old material that Gustafson found the catalyst that was to become ‘Dust’, the fifth Dead Tongues album.
It is an album that makes the listener grateful for the musician’s change of heart. It is the kind of album that gives Americana a good name brimming as it is with finely crafted songs and cracking musicianship. Gustafson plays guitars, harmonica and piano and, on the 8-minute-long opening track ‘Pawn Shop Dollar Bills’ it is those guitar skills that are to the fore, from the opening attention-grabbing chords through to the long solo that brings the song to a memorable climax.
If that opener brings concerns that we are in for an album full of slightly overindulgent tracks then that notion is dispelled immediately with the brilliant title track that follows. With a prominent harmonica that brings Neil Young to mind ‘Dust’ is not only the highlight of a very good album but will, when the Christmas decorations are up at the fag end of the year, surely be viewed as one of the songs of the year. It is the type of song that makes a fool of the reviewer who would be quick to pass judgement on an album after just one song.
If the title track brings hints of Young then then perhaps it would be a predictable cliché to liken Gustafson to Dylan, but it is rare to hear an album where the harmonica features quite so prominently and, particularly on ‘James St’ those vocal chords take the mind in only one direction. But this is no one man band. Gustafson has gathered together a band of musicians who bring depth and soul to the songs. These songs tell of reconciling the past and looking at what a new future might look like.
Gustafson has used his isolation well. ‘Dust’ is a highly accomplished album, an album that grows on each listen. It is an album that, he suggests, would suit a long night-time drive. He probably didn’t have the North Circular in mind when making that statement, but we know what he means.