CD review

By Written by Jesse Jarnow
April 26,2003

Self-released 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.