Aug 4-7

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The Dead Tongues
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The Dead Tongues

Ryan Gustafson remembers very little about the origins of the ten songs on Unsung Passage, his profound new reflection on the emotional architecture of love, loneliness, and life at large. The songs were written during quick spans scattered between various tours of the last two years—as a supporting guitarist for his kindred North Carolina spirits Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook’s Guitarheels and as the leader of his own long-evolving vehicle for a beautifully fractured vision of folk, country, blues, and cosmic American rock, The Dead Tongues. Gustafson’s third and best album under that name, Unsung Passage is a first-person reckoning with the things Gustafson, a chronically peripatetic adventurer, has seen enough to sing about. There are meditations on mortality and devotion (the flute-laced dream “My Other/Little Birdie”), on money and temporality (the banjo trot “The Giver”), and on impermanence and acceptance (the achingly gorgeous “Pale November Dew.”)  This isn’t Gustafson’s idle speculation about life and the world; these are the realizations of a restless mind, of a songwriter who sings “this old town ain’t gonna watch me die” and means it. After several years in a commune in the western woods of Asheville, North Carolina, he now lives in a nearby camper, at least when he’s off the road long enough to call anything home. “When I’m traveling, it’s like walking into these different windows. I’m a witness, with my mouth shut,” Gustafson says. “The people you meet, the way the landscape speaks to you, how a desert is different than a mountain: It has the potential to bring out something you didn’t know was there.” These ten songs are snapshots in time–glimpses at the sorts of emotional upheavals and adjustments we’re all forced to face as we move from day to day and, as in Gustafson’s way, place to place. The familiar sounds of Unsung Passage, a reflection of Americana bedrock, present a comforting score for some of life’s most uncomfortable situations. But they will pass. “Ain’t it all right?” Gustafson demands at one point. “Ain’t it all like a dream?” After all that living, it surely is.

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