Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Australian band Jeremy Edwards and the Dust Radio Band way back in 2008 when their album Stay Hungry knocked us out. The album was an almost perfect example of well crafted and brilliantly played Americana, taking elements from as far back as Gram and Emmylou up to the Jayhawks’ melancholic majesty with a pinch of Steve Earle’s political bluster. Four years on and Russian Doll arrives in the in tray and it was with high expectations that we played the platter. From the first it was comforting to find that the Dust Radio Band are unchanged. Ben Edwards and George Brugmans, bass and drums respectively continue to lay claim as one of the best rhythm sections around. Tight, grounded, unobtrusive but powerful they lay the foundations for a cracking selection of songs. Julianne Henry’s fine voice remains a great foil for Edwards’ resigned vocals which can sound vulnerable and frail at times but above all burn with emotion. Finally Roy Payne’s guitar, pedal steel and Dobro, along with Edwards own fretwork burns and buzzes throughout making this a fine follow-up to the grand edifice that was Stay Hungry.
Edwards writes all ten songs here and each and every one is a potential winner. The title song, Russian Doll is a lascivious slide guitar driven boogie very much in the vein of Lowell George’s Little Feat. This murky blues’ feel permeates the album with Holy Ground, the album opener slithering and buzzing like a rattlesnake as a biting guitar underpins a mandolin riff before some delicious soloing. The guitars on Misery Loves Company are like shards of steel being hammered as the hard as nails rhythm section piledrive on a pulverising song that just begs to be played loud. The invigorating Bring the Family Around is a fast paced jaunt that recalls (strangely enough) the gutsy feel of John Hiatt’s Bring the Family album and has a great guitar lift at the end. There are moments when the band are not so sure-footed with Between Hell and the Highway failing to live up to its opening AC/DC type intro, while it’s a fine song it fails to stand up in comparison to its companions.
They do turn down the amps on several of the songs. The melancholic ballad Sing has a fine dynamic with sweet pedal steel and an excellent vocal performance from Edwards. Better Than Me is half Cajun, half Lowell George with slide guitar and fiddle duelling. Edwards picks up the mandolin again for the final song Pulled an Angel Down which references Thomas Gray but more importantly is a potent mix of acoustic playing with upright bass, Dobro and fiddle coalescing into an almost perfect sound.
Overall this is an album where all of the pieces just fall into place. Edwards and band deliver some classic songs in the classic style much as the likes of the Jayhawks and others. Do give it a listen.