David Dondero

The Transient

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The longer an artist sticks around the music business, the greater the odds that he will eventually get around to recording a road album. The Transient is David Dondero's, and the well-traveled singer/songwriter certainly has worn out enough soles to both merit and sustain a number of them. Like his previous effort, Shooting at the Sun With a Water Gun, this loose song cycle is very much in the mode of Dondero's primary hero, the legendary country-folk troubadour Townes Van Zandt, which is no surprise considering how many attributes the two share. Dondero, too, who originally came from fly-over country, has spent years crisscrossing America in a beat-up pickup with his guitar, has collected more plaudits than paychecks, and writes tunes so lonely and hopelessly soulful -- even when he's rocking out -- that you can practically feel the stubble and taste the whiskey. But, oh, how sublime he makes it all sound, and strangely redemptive, too. The electric cowboy blues of "Ashes on the Highway," part stomp-box dirge, part pent-up release, is one of the greatest things he has ever recorded, and how often can you say that about a song that leaves instructions on dispensing one's cremated remains? There is, if you stretch the definition of the genre, a lot of blues on the album: blues about living and dying, blues about coming to the end of the line ("Less Than the Air," "Vaporize") and about beginning all over again ("Going Back to Wilmington"), blues about always being nowhere (the resplendent, stunningly produced "The Stars Are My Chandelier" and the title track). And it all sounds so magically burned out. The album could, retrospectively, mark the breakout point for its artist -- he was supported throughout the recording by avowed fan Conor Oberst and other players from the celebrated Nebraska collective Bright Eyes, and Lullaby for the Working Class member Mike Mogis, an acquaintance back during Dondero's Sunbrain days, produced -- but even if it doesn't, The Transient is a stretch of highway worth traveling and retraveling.

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