These United States A Picture of the Three of Us

[United Interests; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: psych-folk, southern railroads, guitar-strummin’ blues
Others: Beck, Iron & Wine

When you recycle glass, you get trench backfill and fiberglass and filet o’ fish meals; when you recycle folk music, you just get a lot of recycled folk music. But if you sift through enough Americana river dirt, you're bound to find some speckles of gold.

Somewhere along the way, this Washington white kid discovered backwater soul with all its smoky vocals and retrospection. Singer-songwriter Jesse Elliott shuffles out with the understated chord changes and near-Southern blues narratives seen in any local roadhouse. But the gentle 60-watt glow of the album nudges you in a few songs deeper. Mid-album, Elliott applies this finger-plucked sensibility to something worthy of being called a well-restrained Beck, littering song after song with psychedelic jangle guitars, electro-keyboards, and French horns, but never taking the spotlight away from the album’s simplicity.

These United States sidesteps what could have easily been part of a superfluous boy-and-his-guitar genre by folding classic standards and varying its instrumentation and pop arrangements enough to create a warm and subtle structure, making for an altogether fresh and uniform interpretation of railroad folk introspection.

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