The concept of the American album experience is becoming a lost art at the dawn of the 21st century, and only a few bands such as Wilco and Los Lobos seem to have the inventiveness down. Add the Cosmic Dust Devils to this short list. Their self-titled debut ebbs and flows with a sense of purpose, giving the listener an aural journey through their version of Texas, and by proxy, America as a microcosm. Led by singer/songwriter Kevin Higgins (whose 1998 solo album, Dark Side of the Barn, was one of the classic country/folk/rock albums of that year), this expanded group album continues his highly personalized take on his (and the group's) life and the saga of this country, taking the listener from New York City to Los Angeles to the Gulf of Mexico and several places in between, physically, spiritually, and metaphysically. Musically, the band has a delightfully rustic appeal, welding funky Cajun ("Scratch"), barn-burning country-rock ("Natchez Trace"), and more tender ballad statements such as "Slow Setting Sun" and "Now and Then" into a cohesive whole that surrounds the listener with a sort of Cinemascope panorama that manages to be homespun and expansive at the same time, which is no easy feat. Aside from Higgins, the band is loaded with talent, including two of the finest female singers in Texas, Hilary Smith and Barbara Malteze. Smith's heartbreaking vocal on the brilliant country tearjerker "Don't Junkyard My Heart" and Malteze's swampy eroticism on "Scratch" make these two of the album's many highlights. "Scratch" also contains a positively brilliant electric guitar solo from Mark Tokach, which sounds like a cross between Robbie Robertson and Neil Young. But aside from being excellent players and singers, the Cosmic Dust Devils are a smart group of musicians, who all fall in line with the art of playing for the song -- a seemingly lost ideal these days. This igloo of talent and perspicacity supports Higgins' brilliant and intimate vision perfectly, making Cosmic Dust Devils a sparkling and important release.
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