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Dust by Screaming Trees (1996)
Seventh and final album from this Washington State alternative rock band, mixed by Andy Wallace and produced by George Drakoulias. Kerrang considered "Dust" the best record of its year, although it's a folksier affair than the grungy sounding psychedelic punk brew of earlier collections. Benmont Tench and Mike McCready make guest appearances.
Mark Lanegan - vocals, guitar
Gary Lee Conner - guitar
Van Conner - bass
Barrett Martin - percussion
One - Halo of Ashes
A coral sitar furnishes this tune with an electric flavour of eastern mysticism. The rhythm section is accompanied by mellotron, congas, tabla, harmonium and djembe. Lanegan's lyrics resemble prose as much as verse and he frequently employs half rhymes. A lot of his perceptions give the impression of being drug influenced either now or at some point in the past. His voice is a gruff but melodic baritone: "She wears a halo of ashes / spectre on the wind."
Two - All I Know
The most successful single from the record is driven by another catchy melody and some almost Beatlesque musical arrangements underneath the increasingly noisy guitar work. The abrasiveness of this sound is sweetened by electric piano and cello and backing harmonies. "Bite the thorn that pierce the skin / Come back down to earth again / The cold is creeping deep inside / You disconnect the telephone line."
Three - Look At You
Starts with a peaceful haze of organ cradling the gently rocking verses, punctuated by colourful and expansive guitar passages. "Her ghost hides / In my mind / In the night / In a way she's haunting me." I think the chorus sounds a little like Tom Petty, but then, Benmont Tench is a member of the Heartbreakers, so...
Four - Dying Days
Features a big guitar solo from the lead guitarist of Pearl Jam, Mike McCready. The production as elsewhere is cluttered and fuzzy but warm and lends the sound a likeable and distinctive texture. Acoustic guitars are turned up louder in the mix at times and along with an organ provide strikingly simple touches. "I walk the ghost town / Used to be my city" croaks Lanegan. Ends with another enchanting squall of electric guitar.
Five - Make My Mind
Yet another good tune glinting in the glow of guitar growls. The lyrics are less anguished and the song breathes in the space of contemplation yet to be filled by getting together with somebody much admired. By the end the music senses the moment may be getting closer.
Six - Sworn And Broken
Starts off as an acoustic ballad before going gently electric as the layers build to include cello and a heartbreakingly beautiful church keyboard march. "When Monday morning you don't wake up / Still dreamin' of / What could've been / Something good has gone and left you."
Seven - Witness
"It's taken everything / Everything I got." Rhythms and riffs blend with tight menace and regret as the fallout of addiction reaches spiritual overload.
Eight - Traveller
The melody meanders from the start and takes a couple of unexpected turns into the ditch if you ask me before conking out entirely. The only song on the record that sounds like a misfire or filler, and unfortunately it's over five minutes long to boot. Really dull stuff with a nasal vocal and no bite to the music.
Nine - Dime Western
Thankfully this is immediately more interesting rhythmically and has some of that eastern instrumentation going for it that we heard earlier although admittedly the song-writing isn't as strong here at the end of the record as it was at the beginning.
Ten - Gospel Plow
"If you wanna get to heaven let me tell you how / Keep your hand on the gospel plow." Begins with reedy sustained notes on the harmonium and eastern percussion as Lanegan sings Christian tinged lyrics from an old traditional. Then the song breaks into a maelstrom of controlled metal guitars backed smoothly by a tight rhythm section with a strong bass riff. The mystical elements build back in and the lead guitars flex their muscles. Then the song ends with the way it began with harmonium and tabla.
This is probably going to appeal a lot to fans of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or the rockier Jeff Buckley stuff. Lanegan has a charismatic voice that has a similar emotional register to Cobain, and his band mates provide tuneful song craft with a gnarled spirit, as you might expect from a band called Screaming Trees.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Halo Of Ashes
2 All I Know
3 Look At You
4 Dying Days
5 Make My Mind
6 Sworn And Broken
9 Dime Western
10 Gospel Plow