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.