Jay Farrar has been doing the same thing for close to 15 years now, but there's not much room for error. What is the risk of the alt-country singer — prettiness forever? When you sing like Farrar, whose voice one detractor memorably likened to an "electric can opener on low-battery," is there even that? So, judging by his whirr-not-purr and some early lyrics ("May the wind take your troubles away"), 2005's regrouped Okemah and the Melody of Riot was a small miracle. Anti-Bush tunes and a sitar didn't make him interesting, but his tune sense improved. The Search (from 2007) kept him afloat, if somewhat less memorably. That brings us to American Central Dust — "dust" not as in "Cocaine and Ashes" or "Dust of Daylight," but dusting off the same weary croak, gentle soft-to-loud dynamics, and inoffensive chord changes. The yawning "Cocaine" and by-the-numbers "Down to the Wire" still research Springsteen's unplugged territory without finding a thing, but at least this one starts with a bang: The plaintively pretty "Dynamite" opens the album, staked on a lovely accordion melody. Wilco 3.0, try as they might with their increasing trend toward "dad-rock," will never be as normal as this.
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