Dusty Stray – Estranged

One of the delightful and yet unintended consequences of maintaining Sonic Breakfast for four years now (on and off admittedly) has been the occasional, ongoing contact that’s developed with a pretty wide array of musicians from around the globe. 

Two and a half years on from writing not one but two short blog posts about Dusty Stray (here and here), I receive an E-mail from Jonathan, the man behind Dusty Stray. He tells me that the new record, Estranged, is to be released imminently (on October 12th in fact). We exchange E-mails. Jonathan is now back in Amsterdam after a couple of years in Colorado and I’m now here in Spain. It’s a sort of refreshing proof that our lives haven’t stagnated. 

Jonathan sends me a private link to ‘Estranged’ and I sit down to listen (with headphones).

In my humble opinion, more people should throw themselves into the work of Dusty Stray. And perhaps for a newcomer, Estranged is as good a place as any to start. It’s an album that’s both beautiful and sad. We watch through a window as Jonathan writes about relationships that are almost done – but not quite. We listen as his voice grieves over the potential loss; a range of instruments creating a sort of ‘folk-noir’ soundtrack that simply accentuate the mood. 

The cracks and the stains have been covered, all of the locks have been changed, broken windows boarded up, and we’ve become estranged.” That’s what Jonathan sings on ‘Houses’, one of the album’s many stand-out tracks. You feel the sadness and the honesty in the story-telling. A perky solo does its best to lift the misery but any respite is temporary. 

Not that it’s an album so desolate that there’s no cause for optimism. In ‘Things Will Look Different’, the romance refreshes before the lap steel and harmonica herald further disappointment. “In the morning, you were gone”, sings Jonathan with tumbling heart. ‘After The Play’, a romantic interlude, places our protagonists in a theatre and there’s flirting-a-plenty going on as tears are shed over the actions on the stage.

The title of the new album comes from the general out-of-place feeling I had returning to the US after living so long in Europe,” says Jonathan about Estranged. And you realise that there are different ways to read the album’s grief. On a literal level, it’s about that always-odd time when a relationship might have ended but you’re not quite sure. From a wider perspective, this is an album about falling out of love with a country that you now feel estranged from. 

In a world of Brexit and Trump it’s easy to see why this might resonate.

 

 

Dusty Stray – Blood Trail

I’m reminded that, back in the chaos of 2015, I was sent a video from Dusty Stray’s new record. I was also sent a link to that album, ‘A Tree Fell And Other Songs’, which was being released early in November.

I exchanged some E-mails with Jonathan Brown, the incredible talent behind Dusty Stray and confirmed that I was definitely going to write about ‘Blood Trail’ on Sonic Breakfast. But then, the stuff of life got in the way and I stopped updating my blog.

I say to all who’ll listen that it was a perfectly treatable skin cancer without really stopping to think about the effect it had on my head in those Autumn months. As the trees became bare so did my cupboards.

Born in Taiwan, Jonathan Brown grew up in Texas as a son of a preacher man. Raised on songs about death and resurrection, he began writing his own songs taking influence from early American folk music. Travel, dead end relationships and forming freak folk bands led him to a place where he’s now based in the Netherlands. Jonathan curated the recent SnowApple video that I featured in my Sonic Breakfast Top Ten of 2015.

A Tree Fell And Other Songs, the fourth full-length Dusty Stray release, was written in a small, lone trailer in the flatlands of Holland alongside the dead end of a river. The twelve original songs illustrating “dead end” relationships flow into one another in a natural, organic way. It’s a fine listen if you want to indulge in a bit of melancholy. 

‘Blood Trail’ has a haunting, memorable lilt. It’s almost got the feel of a murder ballad save for the fact that nobody dies. I asked Jonathan what the song was about: – 

“It’s all about a somewhat traumatic childhood memory of when I was about 7 or 8 playing in the dirt/mud along our driveway — making some kind of “castle” or something — and some neighborhood kid came along and completely destroyed it. I was so angry that I picked up a nearby brick and threw it at him hitting him in the head and causing a lot of bleeding and screaming. He turned out to be ok — didn’t even need stitches — but the image of that little blonde-haired kid suddenly blood red-haired sitting on our kitchen counter while my mom was helping him is still with me. And I think that was my first and last violent act…”

I love this. Have a happy weekend SB readers.