Assembly of Dust - The Honest Hour

First with Strangefolk and now with the Assembly of Dust, Reid Genauer has made a career of infusing solid songcraft with a dollop of jam. In a scene whose attention span is just negligibly longer than the wider world of music in general, Genauer’s formula has kept him afloat longer than most acts. The Assembly of Dust frontman owes this longevity to two things: his own songwriting talent and his understanding that a good song often needs nothing but the barest musical foundation.
The Assembly of Dust's first live album, The Honest Hour rests upon Genauer's signature throwback tales of a mythic, pastoral America still populated by taverns and town greens; but all this colorful scenery takes a back seat to the characters who wander through it, hands in pockets, waiting for someone or something to point out their next destination.

Starting off on the New York streets where Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Walter Becker first honed their jazzy pop, "Man with a Plan" begins The Honest Hour with that duo's familiar piano-driven beat and the hypnotic bounce of Genauer's lyrical rhythms. Words and melody wind together through the Manhattan gridlock, consistently locked in tandem, turning corners and dodging traffic together in a magnetic rhythm until finding its way onto the country roads of "Harrower," which follows the migrant sharecroppers of border-state hill country from job to job with a musically forgettable new country verse that explodes with pent-up energy when the chorus finally rolls around.

The title track's introspection on a man's final "Honest Hour" provides the album's finest moment as a soft, true-country shuffle underlies the song's gorgeous harmonies, soaring above the harrowers' fields, lost in apathy, resignation and the contentment that comes from the grudging acceptance of the need to fight losing battles.

The rest of the album continues with alternating country and pop sounds riding the peaks and valleys of verse and chorus, but it takes a while to regain the beauty of the three opening tracks. "Roads" and "Paul Henry" get a bit too comfortable in their easy country setting, and while the everyman battle cry of the former seems to resonate with the album's live audience, it's a bit too obvious on record. Genauer's honesty is best when it's a little cryptic--when the story in the lyrics isn't always clear, but it's always clear that there's one there.

"Speculator" takes a quiet stroll down Main Street, observing and recording the town in its most honest moments, before wandering off the path to a roaring, piano-driven jam. The album's lone rock song, "Honey Creeper" attempts to carry the same heavy groove, but abandons its passion for generic pop rock, which carries the album to its close through "Bus Driver" and "Fountain."

Despite its sonic shortcomings, however, The Honest Hour is ultimately saved by Genauer's paintings of real people at their accidental everyday average best. While the musical foundation is often reminiscent of the generic backgrounds of Jackson Browne and James Taylor, the lyrical foreground is what draws the listener in. This is not an album of grand landscapes and great deeds, but an American Gothic that gives a nobility to those forgotten by a Hollywoodized society that often fails to recognize the beauty that lies in simplicity.

by Brian Gearing