Lee Ranaldo and the Dust / Lee Ranaldo

Acoustic Dust

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The wide-open melodic drones of Lee Ranaldo's music with and without Sonic Youth have always begged for an unplugged treatment, something he delivers in earnest with Acoustic Dust. Recorded at a Spanish studio, this collection of covers and songs from Last Night on Earth add spontaneity and freshness to the intricate psychedelia of his post-Sonic Youth career. It's not surprising that these songs' arrangements are as layered as the original electric versions, but it's still a pleasure to hear how acoustic timbres give extra sparkle to Ranaldo and the Dust's interplay and solos ("Key/Hole" uses violins as a creative stand-in for feedback), and how the more intimate setting allows more conversational vocals as well. And even if Acoustic Dust's overall mood is mellow, it's far from sedate. If anything, "Last Night on Earth" is more joyful here than before, with galloping rhythms and a campfire twist on its seize-the-moment message, while "Angles"' beautifully swooping, building guitars are even more striking than on the original. The folk-rock underpinnings of Ranaldo's sound come to the fore gracefully and organically on his own songs -- "Shouts" sounds like a protest scene equally at home in the '60s, '70s, or 2010s -- as well as the album's well-chosen covers. The band's takes on Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" and Sandy Denny's "Bushes and Briars" are appealingly off-the-cuff and blend seamlessly with the rest of the songs here, but it's the rollicking, smile-inducing version of the Monkees' "You Just May Be the One" that delivers one of the album's brightest highlights. All told, Acoustic Dust is a lovely companion piece to Ranaldo's louder albums, and one that puts a deserved spotlight on his music's quieter charms.

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