We survived the fire / we survived the flood / We survived the waves that tried to swallow us up,â€ sings Joel Gragg in a weathered, half-whispered, yet defiant voice that fits the survivorâ€™s tone of â€œLack of Loveâ€ like an old shoe. This, the fourth cut off of Graggâ€™s new disc, When the Dust Settles, epitomizes the crossroads in American songwriting, a confluence of country, power pop and straight rock with plenty of lyrical introspection and incisiveness to keep things interesting. Itâ€™s no surprise that the Muncie-born Gragg paid his dues and found his feet as he moved from the Midwest to the country heart of Nashville. An accomplished musician and recording engineer, Gragg brought a bushel of well burnished tunes (most of which were recorded in the Music City) back with him, and theyâ€™re all the better for the mileage.
The Tom Petty cum Wallflowers vibe of â€œAll My Lifeâ€ opens the album, setting a comfortable, yet driving pace, staying both refreshingly positive along the way. â€œYou come down like rain / And fill the cracks inside my heart,â€ sings Gragg, avoiding the kind of navel-gazing angst that passes for authenticity these days. As a present acoustic guitar propels the track along with crisp drums, peripheral touches like a squiggly keyboard line add just enough modernity to keep the â€œroots rockâ€ tag from taking hold.
Other highlights include the stately â€œIn Your Hands,â€ hand-clap gospel and electric guitar blues of â€œRedemption Draws Nighâ€ andÂ the outreaching Coldplay-style rock of â€œPatriotic Apathy.â€ Though he shifts stylistically somewhat throughout When the Dust Settles, itâ€™s never jarring, and the top-notch production and attention to sonic details rewards repeated listens. The capping title track, running at an impressive eight-plus minutes, finds Gragg in Daniel Lanois mode, blanketing us with both atmosphere and earthiness and building to a satisfying crescendo before elegantly fading into the sunset.
You can catch Gragg in person when he performs on Satruday, July 19 at Borders. More info at myspace.com/joelgragg.