DUSTY WRIGHT: CATERWAULING TOWARDS THE LIGHT
Writing about a friend’s artistic endeavor is always a little awkward. Inevitably anything more than a simple plug comes across as backscratching – unless you don’t actually like the art, in which case a pan is a fast track to ending that friendship. I have no such qualms recommending Dusty Wright’s new release, Caterwauling Towards The Light, an exquisitely understated album of melodic Americana. Dusty, a New Yorker by way of Cleveland who’s immersed himself in this musical field for what is now six albums, cites the likes of Hank Williams, Warren Zevon and John Cougar Mellencamp as primary influences, and that rootsy, simplistic approach, lyrically as much as musically (“I’m not one to wax poetic in a very flowery manner,” he writes in a press release) inspires here a collection of what initially appear to be the typical middle-aged man’s review of life’s journey.
To some extent this initial observation is correct, but it proves more complex once one understands the circumstances behind the album’s finale, “Fly.” Written from a perspective of peace after climbing a mountain in the Adirondacks, the lyrics (“Going to carry my pain to the summit/take my time I’m tired of running”) took on a different connotation when Dusty felt profound personal resonance in reading about the jumping death of a depressed young New York woman. Choosing to improve the song with additional production embellishments, Dusty had just completed an initial mix when his brother suffered a horrendous motorcycle accident that led to seven weeks in a coma before eventually succumbing to the injuries. Coming hard on the heels of their father’s passing, Dusty understandably underwent his own bout of depression, from which he emerged not only with a new vocal for “Fly” (augmented here by Queen Esther), but determined to apply his experiences for greater communal good. To that end, he has teamed up with Stephanie Riggs, a New York Virtual Reality director, to establish the charity Silence is NOT Golden. The Virtual Reality experience, they state, evokes empathy in ways that a traditional cinematic viewing can not, and immersion in it by someone suffering from depression, dementia, or other mental illnesses, can therefore positively alter the subject’s state of mind. You can view Dusty and Stephanie’s pitch, seeking to crowd-fund for a Virtual Reality video of “Fly,” below.
“Fly,” however, is merely the final candle on this slow-burning collection. “Life Is Hard,” written with the stark simplicity of Johnny Cash in mind, details the fuller story of Dusty’s deceased brother. The beautiful “How Do You Measure A Man?” turns out to be a eulogy to their father (“Who were the sons that he raised?…. Who did he help on his way?”), with exquisite slide guitar from David Lee Waters; the haunting “I Got Lost” references the same man’s late-life dementia.
…All of which suggests an album of dark misery. But not only do Caterwauling’s slower, darker songs prove inherently cathartic, they are balanced by “Fall Into Line,” the uptempo opener; “All Revved Up,” which evokes the articulate rhythmic flow of the recently re-discovered Rodriguez; the jangly romantic commitment of “We Can Set Sail”; and a useful cover of the Moby Grape song “I Am Not Willing.”
Having known Dusty for many years now, I can testify that Caterwauling Towards The Light is no one-off, no late-life introduction to the inherently crowded singer-songwriter sphere, but surely the strongest of his six albums under this name. The reason is perhaps as difficult as certain of the lyrics: that sometimes, unfortunate though the circumstances may be, it takes suffering to inspire us to our creative peaks.