CD review

The Honest Hour

By Written by Bradley Farberman
October 30, 2004

Charlie Parker loved country music. And it seemed strange that he who more or less invented bebop, the black man's sophisticated, swinging answer to classical music, should head over to the jukebox between sets and donate his dime to Hank Williams. One day, someone mustered up the courage to ask Charlie why. And, to no one's surprise, God's gift to the alto saxophone had a great answer for the man. It told a story. Like any music worth listening to should. With words or without, a musician ought to have a story to tell.

Otherwise, what's the point of picking up your instrument?
If you listen close to Parker's solos, you can hear the pain of addiction, and the joys of life and creativity, coming straight out of his horn. And, a lot like Charlie Parker, Reid Genauer is an exceptional storyteller (though I hear he's an awful sax player). And it comes as no surprise that the Assembly of Dust's new disc, The Honest Hour, is full of great stories.

Like the story of the Assembly themselves. One might want to take notice that, for instance, the name of the group has been shortened to "Assembly of Dust" (Genauer's name no longer precedes their moniker). Two years after they first got together, the Assembly are no longer hired guns with instructions to flesh out Genauer's songs.

Today, they're a rock 'n' roll band with a lead singer, not a leader. Even the songs are a group effort: five of the nine songs here are a product of the fruitful Genauer/Wilson (Percy Hill's Nate Wilson plays keys and sings backgrounds for AOD) songwriting cooperative. One of their best contributions to this record, a live date from earlier this year, is "Paul Henry," a nod to heroes (and some of the greatest storytellers of all time) The Band. When Genauer sings "they came a great distance in the driving snow / and the last thing they heard was a trumpet blow," you can hear Richard Manuel singing along, and Levon Helm's hands guiding drummer Andy Herrick (this author's speculations aside, you can catch the boys running through "Up On Cripple Creek" or "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" at their shows).

The title track is another highlight of the new disc. A mid-tempo country shuffle featuring some great pedal steel mimicry from lead guitarist Adam Terrell, "The Honest Hour" offers what it feels like during the hour between death and final judgment. We also find one of the best choruses in any of the Genauer/Wilson's creations right here: "If I'm bound or gagged / If I'm lost or losin' / I might want to leave from here / until then I'll still be cruisin' / high above the atmosphere." Genauer's lyrics are always touching in a sad-yet-hopeful kind of way that really touches on any number of emotions.

And The Honest Hour works in that way, too. These nine songs are songs. They're not excuses for long, wanking guitar solos, crowd-pandering or showmanship of any kind (although all of those things have their place). These are not jams and, consequently, AOD aren't really a jamband; they're storytellers who use simple, unobtrusive melodies and genuine, uncluttered arrangements to get their points across. I bet you'll like their new record.