Meat Puppets

Dusty Notes

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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming

Plenty of music fans have a great sentimental attachment to the notion of "getting the band back together." It's not unusual for a veteran act to go through a number of lineup changes over the course of a career, but some listeners will always hold out hope that one of the absent yet defining members of a group will return, and the band will magically be returned to their former glories. Meat Puppets loyalists were overjoyed in June 2018 by the news that Derrick Bostrom, who played drums with the band during their 1980 to 1996 heyday, had rejoined the Pups, and expectations ran high for 2019's Dusty Notes, the first Meat Puppets album since 1995's No Joke! to include the original core trio of Bostrom, guitarist Curt Kirkwood, and bassist Cris Kirkwood. However, those who thought this meant we might get another classic album like Meat Puppets II or Up on the Sun (or Too High to Die if you were an alternative rock fan in the '90s) should keep in mind this isn't exactly the classic lineup of the band. The Meat Puppets have been expanded to a five-piece with the addition of second guitarist Elmo Kirkwood (Curt's son) and keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, and though Bostrom's drumming is solid and cuts a comfortable, commanding groove just as it did in the '80s, it doesn't dramatically change the sound of this edition of band. In most respects, Dusty Notes follows a creative template similar to that of post-millennial Meat Puppets efforts such as 2008's Sewn Together and 2013's Rat Farm, and Stabinsky's keyboards ultimately play a bigger role in the album's overall mood than Bostrom's percussion. With the exception of the hard-changing and slightly proggy "Vampyr's Winged Fantasy," the vibe of Dusty Notes is amiable and laid-back, with the slightly foggy harmonies of the Kirkwood Brothers up front as Curt lays guitar patterns over straightforward psych-infused melodies and the rhythm section holds down an amiable shuffle behind it all, with Stabinsky adding a playful atmosphere as he replicates calliopes, horns, harpsichords, or an old Hammond B-3 depending on his surroundings. The Meat Puppets have been quietly making fine albums since Cris Kirkwood returned to the band in 2007, and hopefully Bostrom's presence will earn Dusty Notes a larger audience than the band's last few releases. But the sound isn't a throwback to their first (or second) great era so much as it reflects the best qualities of their more mature work, and if it's not quite what some folks may have hoped for, it's a pleasing and well-crafted set that reminds listeners this band is still vital and productive.

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