Lunette, Jim Roll's follow-up to his critically acclaimed 1998 album Ready to Hang, furthers his themes of love, loss, and pain, but somehow manages to treat all with an air of optimism. Produced by Walter Salas-Humara of the folk-rock group the Silos, the album goes beyond the dusty conventions of the alternative country genre by introducing everything from looping electronic textures to an avant-garde string section reminiscent of Kronos Quartet. As odd as these elements may seem, Roll's gruff sentimentality and sincere honesty anchor each song, and keep the listener wondering what'll come around the next corner. The album ties together the raw energy of Uncle Tupelo's early recordings with the passion and polish of Harvest-era Neil Young.
Beneath the whisky-ballad truthfulness of each song is a surprising quilt of musical textures, ranging from lap guitar and banjo to vintage organ and coffee-can percussion, pulling Roll's audience further in with each listen. The heartland punch of the opening track "1955" is followed by the Texas barroom/bluegrass stomper "Blind Me," which soon winds its way to the dreamy Gram Parsons-influenced sleepwalk "Down" (complete with K.C. Groves' charming Emmylou Harris tribute). Other standout tracks include the eerie "These Winds," in which the soaring string section hauntingly punctuates the almost a cappella vocals, and the singalong "Bleed (If You're Bleeding)," a quick waltz that crashes around like your drunk uncle at a family wedding. The down-home atmosphere of Lunette is stark but not simple, and sorrowful but not depressing. The loping pace of the album is reminiscent of hot summer evenings when even turning your head makes you sweat, so you turn off all the lights and wait it out on the porch.