I've been listening to this a little over a week now and haven't gone a day without it. It's Americana folk with influences from Dylan to Greg Brown to Peter Mulvey to acoustic Springsteen. But this album is special as it is a rare eclipse of stellar songcraft with heartfelt lyrics combined with excellent musicians and production. I've played this on a studio reference system and you can hear all the wonderful details of Drew's guitar (which he built,)the slide guitar, fiddle, banjo, piano and even a cello I thought.
Drew's music is Americana, but it's not a whiskey and beer back chaser album, rather a slower sipping single malt, preferably with the window open on a warm summer evening. Lyrically, Drew's Michigan roots are apparent as the brine he's steeped in...and anyone who knows the beauty of gravel roads and trout streams of backroads Michigan and the Great Lakes area will feel a resonance ("Highway 2"). Drew aims high, with themes of the beauty of everyday life ("Grandmother Moon") and the pitfalls as well ("Stranger"). Throughout the album, there is a reverence for the beauty around us that shines through with conviction, but this is not an album of sentimental platitudes, but terse sketches of characters and stories that let an understated heart in the right place shine through. The heavier themes give ballast to the album, but presented almost casually. Drew's characters are regular people facing unwelcome changes, but are not beaten down, but hopeful despite uncertainty.
Production is also understated...druming is a very light touch, the slide guitar's heavenly and other strings and piano bolster and color the strength of Drew and his guitar. Over repeated listening, I'm still surprised by how new sounds continue to reveal themselves.
Ultimately, this album is Americana folk, but it makes me feel the way I do when listening to albums like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or when I sat in the Gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Festival...eliciting a emotional wellspring of hope and gratitude in the face of an uncompromising and all too often impersonal world.
And the best part is that this is only Drew's second album. Judging by the trajectory since 2004's Immigrant Son (no slouch effort there either), Dusty Road to Beulah Land promises a long and rewarding career for Drew and his listeners. It's only been out for a couple of months, but I have a feeling it'll be around for a long long time.