David J Opdyke
Saddle up the recliner and take a long, leisurely ride down the ol' ambient trail... or, I should say, the new ambient trail. Though Steve Roach has been way out West for years, he and his new partner (Tusconian guitarist and studio whiz Roger King) are stringing up a different sound.
The two men have many years of experience behind them, applying their expertise to this new desertscape. You best believe it's done right! (You can get the behind-the-scenes story at the exclusive AmbiEntrance DUST TO DUST Interview). We're talking about guitar-based electronic ambience... Real purty sounds! And for this outing, Roach has traded in his didgeridoo for a good old-fashioned harp... blues harp, that is.
Riding in on the wide-open spaces of Roach's electronic skyway, King's guitar makes itself right at home... It's obvious they've "Gone West". Hesitantly, then spiritedly, strings jangle and ring along with accompanying harmonica blasts. The track builds and meanders a bit, then settles into something downright relaxing. "A Daze Wage", on the other hand, keeps up its hard-working pace pretty much 'til the end. The guitar leads the way, picking and sliding in a determined refrain over the background clank and scrape of hard labor, while Roach's harp grumbles and growls.
King's few ghost-like words are blended into "A Bigger Sky", which is the shortest song at 3:19. Extended wails and stretched-out chords reach from the horizons. Perhaps not surprisingly, "The Ribbon Rails of Promise" seems to go endlessly (well, for almost 11 minutes) like westward-bound train tracks rolling on and on. Quickly pattering cymbals are paired with a fretless bass which lumbers forward, lurchingly but resolutely. Plenty of electronics float by, with less guitar.
"First Sunrise" is a piece of minimal serenity, shining slowly. Percussionless, it's flavored with light rays of synth and a few strums here and there, eventually fading away. If that track is a peaceful day, then "Lost and Forgotten" is the restless night. An eerie feel pervades this darkened valley... ominous bass, snakey rattles and thunderclaps allude to danger... real, dreamt or remembered? You're in it now.
"Snake Eyes" focuses again on King's alternately strumming, sliding and ringing guitar while Roach's harmonica wails in the near distance. Assorted creaks and shakes accent the track, along with the occasionally blown beer-bottle. No beat, but a relatively lively pace. Through the sounds of thunder and precipitation, a rich rainbow of synth and resonant guitar chords brighten the atmosphere of "Rain and Creosote". Lengthy sustains sweep the tones across the sky in this beautiful piece.
It blends seamlessly into "Ghost Train", and its dense, swirling heathaze of sound. The ol' blues harp huffs and twitters a bit while sonic clouds rise and fall in a wondrous slow motion. The track is bass-heavy, yet light and shimmering... a piece of heaven eventually fading away like a mirage.
I've got a thing for this breed of sound, (and it definitely is comparable to my other favorite ambient trailride, Slim Westerns), so call me a little bit predisposed, but... DUST TO DUST does exactly what it sets out to do. The result is atmospheric, evocative and artfully rendered. Call it an inexpensive, yet wholly satisfying Southwestern vacation, without the heat and sand. Both of my thumbs are reaching for the sky!