December 4, 2014
If no one had come up with the genre-binding concept of Americana, we’d be hard pressed to argue that artists like Kacey Musgraves and the Decembrists make similar music. As a description of musical forms, the Americana label is essentially useless, but as a short-hand categorization of musicians who take their inspiration from a broad swath of distinctly American genres, it’s helpful. It’s the only way, in fact, to lay a one-word description on an album like Cavalier, the new project from Shelly Dixon and Jeff McRae. It’s not as if Cavalier is all over the map stylistically; the majority of the record rests comfortably in the space between folk and country, with some subtle tilts toward bluegrass now and then when a banjo or mandolin peeks out of the mix. When Dixon takes the vocal helm, the strength of her delivery shifts the tone in the direction of contemporary country, but when McRae is up front, things settle down into a Dylan-esque folky vibe.
There are outliers among the songs, though. “Indigo” is a steamy blues number, and “Time is a Thief” runs smooth jazz through an acoustic filter. The record closes with a pair of tracks that showcase the extremes of McRae’s folk-rock range; “Petty Striving” is pop that almost manages a Byrdsy jangle, while “Messages” is just about as spare and plaintive as you can get.
The thread that ties it all together is the story told by the songs. It’s all about American preoccupations – nostalgia, daydreams, wistful introspection, pragmatic romance – and it’s all flavored with a subtext of restlessness, a quiet longing for the road. In that way, Cavalier is nothing but American, and there’s no other way to describe it.
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