Meat Puppets – Dusty Notes (Album Review)

Formed in the sun-caked halls of a prep school in Phoenix, Arizona, the original Meat Puppets lineup has reunited for Dusty Notes, set for release on Friday, March 8th through Megaforce Records.

Looking back, while the brothers Kirkwood – Curt on vocals as well as guitar and Cris on bass as well as vocals – resumed playing together in 2006 after a brief hiatus, founding Drummer Derrick Bostrom has been out of the fold since 1996, after the release of No Joke! a year prior. Shandon Sahm and Ted Marcus have traded shifts on drums in the meantime, and even Cris took some time away to handle some personal affairs. The original trio reunited in 2017 upon their induction into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, and here we are on the verge of new music.

A follow-up to their 2013 album Rat Farm, Dusty Notes sees the band nurturing its roots in the eclectic mix of Rock, Country, and Punk it has always called home, with the expertly droll vocals of Curt binding the sounds together. Ron Stabinsky joins the band here on keyboards, and Curt’s son Elmo continues adding guitar, as he has done since 2011.

Ten songs in total, it all starts with “Warranty,” which doubles as the first single, entering the fray with a toe-tapping Western beat that is hard to ignore. The band’s distinct milieu benefits from just a touch of psychedelia here, laying a strong foundation for the distinct monotone vocals of Curt. This track announces to all those concerned that the Meat Puppets are confidently continuing a languid stroll down the wayward path they started forging in the early 1980s.

Expansion pack Elmo and Stabinsky make their presences known on “Nine Pins,” where colorful organ and several layers of plucking set a scene that could easily slip behind a county fair or traveling carnival. The two make their presence known later on “Unfrozen Memory,” with the unsettling sound of harpsichord deftly connecting the low offerings of Curt’s vocals with some adventuresome guitar.

Then there is the slow Waltz of “On,” which can almost be considered a ’50s ballad, though the hazy vocals of Curt keep anyone from rushing the stage too quickly. The acoustic opening of “The Great Awakening” is worthy of Nick Drake, though the accompanying piano and vocals are a bit too upbeat (and electric) to fit into the catalog of the late Englishman, especially the aggressive chorus breaks.

Later on, the title-track starts with promise, but it ends up as what may be the only misstep. To some, “Dusty Notes” may feel like the one case where the overabundance of sounds (those may even be horns in the background) seem to clash with the vocals, and the song overall seems to move around without actually getting anywhere.

Beyond this, “Sea of Heartbreak” belies its tales of woe: the sad loneliness of staying “in harbor” is a safe, boring alternative to sailing the “sea of tears” and experiencing the inevitable titular heartbreak. This is before the deceptive “Vampyr’s Winged Fantasy” begins with a calm, jazzy interlude, before descending into a robotic Prog Metal composition. Deftly executed, this track proves, if nothing else, that the Meat Puppets could throw a dart, adapt any genre landed upon, and put an impressive effort into something unique and effective.

Lastly, the album wraps with the aptly titled “Outflow,” a loose collection of all the appropriate pieces that go into a Meat Puppets composition: the charming lilt of Curt, a smattering of vocal harmonies, and a jaunty piano accompaniment. Even for those songs laced with sadness and regret, the Meat Puppets cannot help but add copious amounts of sugar to help swallow the medicine.

Dusty Notes, highlighted by the return of Derrick Bostrom, completes the circle of the Meat Puppets and makes the outfit whole again. Starting with Cris rejoining in 2006, followed by the more recent additions of Elmo Kirkwood and Ron Stabinsky, the band has been slowly re-imagining itself in its original image. This album is ten brisk tales that remind fans old and new alike that the skill and familiarity of over thirty-five years can still breathe fresh, interesting work onto tape. An exciting mixture of Punk, Rock, Country, and hazy Psychedelia, Cryptic Rock is pleased to award Dusty Notes 4 out of  5 stars.

Purchase Dusty Notes:

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