When the Dust Settles
“We survived the fire / we survived the flood / We survived the waves that tried to swallow us up,” sings Joel Gragg in a weathered, half-whispered, yet defiant voice that fits the survivor’s tone of “Lack of Love” like an old shoe. This, the fourth cut off of Gragg’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. It’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 they’re all the better for the mileage.
The Tom Petty cum Wallflowers vibe of “All My Life” opens the album, setting a comfortable, yet driving pace, staying both refreshingly positive along the way. “You come down like rain / And fill the cracks inside my heart,” 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 “roots rock” tag from taking hold.
Other highlights include the stately “In Your Hands,” hand-clap gospel and electric guitar blues of “Redemption Draws Nigh” and the outreaching Coldplay-style rock of “Patriotic Apathy.” Though he shifts stylistically somewhat throughout When the Dust Settles, it’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. (D.M. Jones)
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