Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rusty Willoughby -- Filament Dust (2008)

Rusty Willoughby -- Filament Dust (self released)

I liked Rusty Willoughby’s work in Pure Joy, and the first two albums by his old band Flop are about as good as punky pop ever gets. So it was a pleasant surprise to find this solo disc in one of the used bins at the Hollywood Amoeba Records. Just looking at the songs on the disc, I knew this would be a different sort of album. A Jimmy Rodgers song, a classic Bob Dylan folk tune and a Beatles number indicated this would not be balls out rock.

Indeed, Willoughby is now purveying moody folk music. He still sings in that high adolescent voice, which works better with this type of material than one might suspect. For the most part, the songs are short and melt into one another. Throughout the disc, Willoughby is wholly engaged in the material. He may be strumming an acoustic guitar, but the same passion that was on display on the loudest Flop song comes through in more of a slow burn fashion.

Willoughby’s original songs seems inspired by John Lennon, with a touch of Dylan. He often adds just a bit of reverb to his voice, which stands out starkly over his guitar. I think his two best compositions are on the second half of the disc.

First, there’s “Where are The Knives”. This is a folk-blues with cryptic lyrics. Willoughby sings of a relationship that may turn out fatal, which might not be a problem: “he’d give that to her/if she’d ask nice.” The song fades out while Willoughby is starting the next verse, as an interlude called “Interlude” provides a pastoral break.

Willoughby comes back on the title cut, which is another folk-blues. He adds extra reverb to his vocals, making this sound like an overmodulated radio transmission. This obviously puts his voice in the center, and his phrasing and enunciation wavers and punctuates, teeming with emotion. Again, the lyrics turn fatalistic: “I really didn’t want to cry/but all you really wanna do is die.” And this segues into a haunting version of The Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry”.

Willoughby also does a great version of Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. He adds some fake applause to simulate a live audience. But the canned clapping makes it sound like this is being performed live from limbo. He emulates Dylan’s phrasing, to a degree, but because his vocal quality is so different, it gives the song a fresh feel.

And feel is really the key to this album. Willoughby’s originals fit in well with the Dylan, Rodgers and other traditional songs. His production choices set a mood and tone that make this album all the more compelling. It’s not quite psychedelic, not quite gothic, but it is dramatic.

I’m so glad to rediscover a favorite artist. I never would have guessed he’d go in this direction, it’s now my turn to catch up on what I missed.


Rusty Willoughby said...

someone showed me your review. thank you for the kind words and for understanding the intent of this record. many folks who have followed my stuff seem pissed off at this record. i think 'cos it aint spit polished.

cheers and keep listening to music! :)

- rusty

Jerome said...

I'm trying to contact rusty willoughby for an interview in a fanzine...
if someone could help?
thank you,

Anonymous said...

I sure wasn't pissed off, it's a great record! Love all your stuff, Rusty. You're one of my musical heroes.
Love from Ypsilanti, MI.