Review: Sobering Sentiments from Rod Picott and Slaid Cleaves on ’Wood, Steel Dust & Dreams’

Rod Picott/Wood, Steel, Dust & Dreams/Welding Rod Records
Three and a half  out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

So what’s better than one superb songwriter? Well, two obviously. Think Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Rodgers and Hammerstein… the list of perfectly paired collaborators can be traced back to the origins of popular music itself. 

Whether or not Rod Picott and Slaid Cleaves ever achieve that special distinction remains to be seen. Each is an accomplished singer and songwriter in his own right, and knowing that, any need to tie their talents together seems somewhat superfluous at this point. And yet, as Picott explains in the liner notes that accompany his new double disc, Wood, Steel, Dust & Dreams, they’ve known each other nearly 50 years, and have been writing together for 30.

Nevertheless, this is the first evidence of their combined creativity, at least to such a serious extent. While many of the tracks have apparently been hoisted from the vaults, it’s also clear there was plenty of material to choose from, due to the fact that more than two dozen songs are spread over the expanse of the two discs. And while Cleaves only makes a brief cameo appearance — this is billed as Picott’s project after all—the support team is still impressive enough, given the inclusion of Neilson Hubbard behind the boards and also sharing harmonies and percussion, Will Kimbrough on guitar, Lex Price on bass and mandolin and Matt Mauch, who contributes the sinewy slide guitar.

Make no mistake however—this is a decidedly low-cast set of songs, marked by a sound that barely rises above a whisper. Songs such as “Warden’s Hotel,” “Double Crossed Heart,” “Broke Down,” and “Sinner’s Prayer” are imbued with a feeling of darkness and despair, with terse arrangements and only the barest embellishment. It’s easy to imagine Picott and Cleaves as they share a drive down a deserted stretch of highway in search of the nearest rest stop where they can simply pass the time and write songs that reflect a decidedly melancholy mindset. Even when optimism seems to make gains in the rearview mirror, a sense of sobriety still manages to keep it at bay.

Clearly then, Wood, Steel, Dust & Dreams is the kind of album that demands focus as in the need to listen free from distraction. A proper mix of mood and music, it’s a twilight tapestry that leaves an emphatic impression.

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