Largely low-key musically over the past decade since moving to Texas and releasing 2010's A Patch of Blue Sky, Kevin Welch doubled down this year with 2-CD retrospective The Dead Reckoning Years and now a platter of new tunes. The career folkie, Southern California native, Oklahoma son, and Nashville expat, 63, retains a rough, distinctive beauty in an accompanying career of songcraft, the lived-in grit to his vocals delivering a beautifully mellow sound and perspective. Peers like Rodney Crowell and John Hiatt echo in his songs, which have influenced rising stars like fellow Okie John Fullbright. Opener "Blue Lonesome," a biting, biblical ballad; the low-growled and defiant "A Flower"; and the dark, jazzy lope of the evocative "High Heeled Shoes" pool together the best of the Southwest. Narratives such as "The Girl in the Seashell," "Dandelion Girl," and the martial kick of "Brother John" strike true to Welch's keen sense of character and ability to capture a full life in a few bars. He's immaculate through to the closing title track, demonstrating a restless power and vulnerability in the weary drawl of his chorus: "All I ever wanted was to sit along some hallowed ground/ I'm an old dust devil, waiting on the wind to die down."
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