The Dusted Sessions follows “The Dust Bowl Theme”, one of the standout cuts on the compilation Your Victorian Breasts, reviewed here earlier this year. That languid desert piece finds its echo on “Dusted Down”, which to no one’s surprise is one of the standout cuts on The Dusted Sessions. Slower and more deliberate, the revisited track offers a combination of sun glare shimmer and gunslinger menace, exemplifying the album’s consistent mood. The cover image presents a modern take on the classic West: two travelers, walking across an arid land. The difference: guitars instead of guns and telephone poles instead of trees.
The photographed sojourners represent keyboardist Gregg Kowalsky and violinist Marielle Jakobsons, the core members of Date Palms. On The Dusted Sessions, they become a quintet for the first time, inviting guitar, bass and tanpura to join the fray. Of these, the bass is the most apparent, serving as an anchor to the compositions, the ground above which the sand and dust whirl. The tanpura adds an Indian feel, while the guitar adds hints of classic rock. The expanded lineup is a boon to the (former) duo, a means of stretching timbre. And yet, even when the sound is at its fullest, The Dusted Sessions still feels sparse, the end result of deliberately delivered chords and the space between notes. By design, a desert album should feel this way, and Date Palms honors the sources of its inspiration.
The LP’s reflective first side conjures up the spirit of the Yuba River in four parts. The long opener includes a light use of wordless vocals, personifying the spirit in true Native American fashion. “Part II” is graced with a gentle, rising drone. The reprise unfolds like a sweet, slow sunset. Side B is more active, inspired by the dust devils of the Eureka Dunes. The opening piece is once again the longest, setting the tone for the remainder of the album. If the first side connotes safety, the second implies its opposite. The West may be tamed, but it can still be dangerous. A shift from bass lines to single tones, coupled with Jakobsons’ more jagged approach, lends “Night Riding the Skyline” a sense of menace. When the electric tones are joined by the album’s first use of percussion, a low rhythm is established, as ponderous as a saddled, riderless horse making its way into an unfortified outpost. From the safety of the modern day, we now imagine the Old West with a strange wistfulness. Even cleaned up, it possesses a dark allure. (Richard Allen)
Release date: June 11