The album at hand is Pillow: American-Made by Mule Dixon. Categorically speaking, it's Americana, which doesn't tend to make its way into my headphones. I have both eclectic and ignorant musical tastes. I don't seek out music by genre. Rather, I tend to be one of those folks who finds herself stuck in childhood musical tastes (embarrassingly), which limits my exposure. But who doesn't like being introduced to a catchy beat and a strong voice? Dymanic lyrics? Hey, there's the trifecta.
As a rule I don't listen to music critically, so I listened to this album in the same manner I might read a book I plan to review. I was initially struck by the balance of strong, catchy beats and the rhythmic lyrics that actually say something. So I began writing this review by listening to the album and writing down the key words that came to mind. They are as follows: Grit, Home, Dust, America, Southern Nature, Setting, Strength, Home, Fight, Independence, Striving, Family, Self, Love, Harmony, Freedom, Freedom, Freedom, Definition, Freedom, Sweet, Country, Whole, Life, Freedom
"American-Blowback Baby" is the lead song, and rightly so; it sets the narrative stage for the album that follows. As I listened on, I realized this song is not only the thematic but also emotive springboard for many of the scenes (songs) to come. It begins with a subtle but sharp edge, etching a portrait of the American person(s), declaring and defining independence then comparing this definition with the mythology of the American Dream (Keep one eye on the trigger/Keep one eye on your back./And always keep both eyes/On the money/American-blowback baby/American-blowback baby). "No Matter the Consequence" follows with defiant acceptance for the sake of all-embracing love (or mutual acceptance) that leads to its own type of freedom, a larger freedom (tough material to write about!). "This is What it Feels Like" is a more zoomed in view of the striving and precise American family portrait. The folks chasing the dream. Perhaps the most poetic piece also seemed a sort of transition: "Calaveras" (We are the fire/From the belly/Of a well/Knuckled wealth/To the ground/We all go home/We all go home), which covered the concepts that drive the traditional Day of the Dead ritual mentality in which family and friends gather to honor the living and lived. I found this song the most transcendent piece, lyrically, as it touched successfully on the cyclic nature of life, the cumulative impact of our lives, and the beauty/power/oneness of these transitions.
Something about the album shifts with the introduction of "Another Country Roadside" and the vocals of Kali Rea. I've always been a fan of duets, and this song is no exception. It is a little softer, a little sweeter, and the play of voices harmonizing before each singer takes and releases the stage--loved it all. Kali's voice has a delicate country appeal that plays so well against Mule Dixon's deep and, if not gritty, layered and knowing voice; Kali surprises when she takes the stage in this song, hitting notes that make the stomach flip a little. I love this song if only because her voice is addictive, but it was with this song that I also began to miss the initial lyrical force of the album.
As an album, the whole is strong; however, if I had one critique it would be a lack of cohesion. After "Calaveras" the album seems to adopt a sort of best-of feel to it in that all the songs are interesting and complex but seemed to be compiled to display the range of Mule Dixon as opposed to the depth--which I believe could be strengthened by a slightly more cohesive whole. In other words, this writer wanted the story that began so vividly to continue. (Who but a writer would critique the plot of an album?)
That critique aside, each individual song on this album can stand on it's own accord and, given the range, there's a sort of diversity that could work the listener's benefit. The album is amazing and worth listening to, and I can attest to the fact that a few of the songs do become ear bugs (I'm hearing "American-Blowback Baby" in my head right now). To summarize, Americana has made its way into my headphones. I think of this album as a collection of poetry in that each song contains enough to digest that I am encouraged to listen on but also (often) to pause. That pause, after all, is what all art is all about.