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Published: 2003/04/26
by Jesse Jarnow

The Assembly of Dust – Reid Genauer


On The Assembly of Dust, Reid Genauer comes off like a jamband James
Taylor, which is fine if you like James Taylor. The liner notes divide the
songs up into, "chapters" which implies some kind of story, with Genauer as the storyteller. To that end, Genauer delivers
his vision with an admirable consistency that allows the album to flow
easily, like a gurgling Vermont microbrew. And he's got a few cool musical
tricks, but we'll come to those later.

The problem with Genauer's characters is that they rarely actually do
anything. They seem to be painted only in big, broad, symbolic strokes that
prevent them from accomplishing anything tangible. Abstract is wonderful, of
course, but the abstractions are sung with all the authority of somebody who
thinks something is going on. There are lots of images of bones and
bone-crushing and the like, without nod to the grim reality that human bones
are actually really gross things, and if one actually encountered
them, one probably wouldn't wax all poetic, but would most likely feel
genuinely nauseous. The general catalog of stock images that Genauer calls
seems to be divorced from reality with a similarly ill-thought ease.

On "Drawn," Genauer sings of a character waking up in a room, contemplating
his life — "I try to figure out what I'm figuring out," he sings,
articulately. All sorts of horrible things have happened to him, but Genauer
never ventures into them, other than to say that the character is drinking,
he just woke up, he's looked at the clock, he feels bad and good at the same
time, and – honey – you know it's true.

This isn't necessarily a bad scene – it's basically the fourth verse to
"Simple Twist of Fate" by Bob Dylan – but there are no hints of other
events, of other characters, of story development, of whether this is the
beginning, middle, or end of a plot. And it underscores the main problem
with Genauer's lyrics: if the characters were to be visualized in real time,
it's awfully hard to figure out what they would be doing — standing around
looking wistful, most likely.

The Assembly of Dust doesn't jam, but move with the comfortable ease of a
band that has spent hours improvising together. They fit together extremely
well, and the music really does flow with an unparalleled comfort. As
always, Percy Hill keyboardist Nate Wilson is tasteful in everything he
touches. Everything moves at a righteously languid pace. It's relaxed —
which is to say that the stories laid atop the music don't seem particularly
urgent, and – more – don't seem to have a particular reason/occasion for
their telling at that exact moment.

Likewise, the band adds a few cool, if novel, innovations to the book of
jamband songwriting. On the opening "Burned Down" and the closing "Bow," the
band alternates between genres with successive lines of a song — a sort of
stylistic call-and-response. On "Bow," for example, they toggle between a
lovely Beatles-esque descending melody and a Steely Dan/God Street
Wine/gospel rave-up. The band has not quite learned to achieve this
gracefully yet, but the music is in the right place. With more work, they
could really do something beautiful.

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