There’s a sadness undergirding Dallas songslinger Ronnie Fauss’ first full-length album, but it’s not expressed in ways that are dour or maudlin. No, it’s more a sense of lived hardship sharpening perception, a sensitivity to the struggles and frustrations of everyday existence. An empathy for his fellow travelers, maybe. Mixing country and folk with the occasional big heartland rock riff, Fauss proves a remarkably astute chronicler of life’s seasons and cycles. Take the kicking “A Pretty Nice Night for Houston,” which sees past personal hurt to dig up a universal thread: “And ain’t it funny how we start off so young / We’re sweet and pure and good / But then 30 years later we’ve had our fun / Betraying everyone we could.” Or the soul-searching “Answers You Already Know,” where he offers: “Children are nothing but grown-ups / Who have not had their hearts broken yet.” Even as he shows tendencies toward the philosophic, Fauss retains a wry sense of humor: “Pistols in the Air” includes “a dentist in Tennessee” alongside an SUV-driving Democrat in its list of oxymorons. At his best, Fauss combines uncommon wit and insight with tunes and performances so strikingly immediate that they hardly require the competitive edge. When he hits that mark, it’s a true synergistic slam dunk. Count on having “This Year” and “The Last” stuck in your head indefinitely.
Recommended if you like: Todd Snider, Kasey Anderson, John Prine
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS