Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Album Review: Built To Break by Ronnie Fauss

Built To Break” by Ronnie Fauss blurs the lines between alt-country and alt-rock. Moving from the pounding drums and electric guitars of “Another Town” and “A Natural End” to the pedal steel and fiddle on “The Big Catch” and “Never Gonna Last;” Ronnie Fauss delivers a sonically textured Americana experience. Like Ryan Adams and fellow Texans Old 97s, Ronnie is more concerned with the music than the label attached to it.

“Another Town” leads off the album with big bass drum beats and power guitar chords as it tells the story of a broken relationship where the man says, “Don’t ask me when I’ll be coming back through that door,” only to find that in the end, he’s the one who’s been left behind. “A Natural End” follows with a jangly, Athens, GA sound. Less of a story, and more of an observation, Ronnie wonders about “all the ones we’ve forsaken” as we muddle through our current relationships. He pleads, “Let’s have a natural end before we begin. And maybe then we’ll have a chance to win.”

In many ways this song summarizes Ronnie’s lyrical style. He doesn’t tell stories so much as he paints portraits of their aftermath. He doesn’t tell war stories, he shows you the homeless war veteran. He doesn’t tell why the husband and wife fight, he shows you the effect on the children. Like a painting with a large part of the center blacked out, you can tell something happened but you’re not sure what. As you work to reconstruct the picture from the clues around the edges, the whole scene suddenly becomes more compelling as you’re forced to add your own personal experiences to make sense of what’s available.

“The Big Catch” is a perfect example of his style. Singing, “The lightning, it woke you at midnight. You went running to your mom and daddy’s bed. But they sent you away…” Then he reveals another clue with, “the place in between where they slept was filled up with lies and resentment.” And in the end, you never know the cause, you just learn that, “The lightning still wakes you at midnight. And your little one runs to your room. But you send her away when she begs you to stay ‘cause nobody did that for you.”

Again, in “A Place In The Country,” Ronnie sings “I’ve got a place out in the country,” which sounds like a perfectly normal way to begin singing about the joys of rural living. But Ronnie ends each stanza singing, “I got sins that you would not believe… I got sins that’ll make the devil blush.” And you realize this is not about singing the praises of the country, this is about hiding far away from personal demons – whatever they may be.

In the Dylanesque “I’m Sorry Baby (That’s Just The Way It Goes”) we discover a lonely woman whose beauty has faded and whose children have grown. Ronnie describes the cruel irony in poetic fashion: “You’re aching for your children, for the time when they were young. Back when all you wanted was some time to yourself.” In telling her story, Ronnie concludes, “the moral of this story is there ain’t no moral at all.”

So there is no judgment in these stories. No heroes and villains. There’s just what’s left of our humanity after all we’ve been through. As Ronnie concludes in “Come on Down,” we are all built to break. But with just a hint of optimism, he ends by noting, “this work will break our bodies, but it only builds our souls.”

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