David Gelman has made some intriguing alternative music in the past dozen or so years, and in his fourth studio album, the enigmatically titled Dusty Highway, he doesn’t hold anything back from an audience that has grown to expect a lot out of his music. From the jaggedly groove-laden “Lay Me Down” to the haunting, harmony-based instrumental cut of the title track, Gelman is both reverent and ghostly, scarcely going the same compositional route from one song to the next, but while the resulting aesthetical hybridity he conjures up here is quite the highbrow listen – even for a critic like myself – it doesn’t feel so far removed from the mainstream that the average passerby wouldn’t be as inclined to relate to its rhythm and boldly colorful tonality as someone who has been listening to this artist’s work for years could.
In particularly enthralling albums, rhythm can be as telling of an emotional theme as any given verse is, and this can certainly be said for “Fight My Way,” “No Peace of Mind,” “Once a Part of Me” and the standard version of “Dusty Highway.” These songs are scattered through the tracklist, but they feel as though they were originally part of a distinct medley perhaps born out of an improvisational session as opposed to a deliberate stab at making a handful of effective alternative jams. It takes a couple of listens to understand the creative arc in play here, but once you do, it’s remarkably hard to put this album down.
As instrumentally provocative as the bulk of the material on Dusty Highway is, I don’t see any point in debating what the true centerpiece in this LP is; David Gelman’s incredibly charming vocal, which breathes life into “Time on My Hands,” “Stuck on Broadway” and “Maybe Tomorrow” in ways that no other voice could have. He’s got such a unique execution in these three songs in particular, and though it isn’t all that different in shape or style from what we heard on 2019’s Last Surviving Son, I don’t know that this element of his artistic skillset needs to change at all for him to blossom in other areas creatively. Gelman is a phenomenal instrumentalist, but simply put, I think that he proves himself to be a vocalist first in this latest studio offering.
Much like his scores of fans in the American underground, I was anticipating a lot of grandiosity in Dusty Highway, and when I picked it up for the first time this past July, I can’t say that I was disappointed with what I heard in the least. In the several weeks that have gone by since then, this eleven-song tracklist has aged a lot better than many of the others that debuted in 2023 have, and though it’s technically a product of a much simpler vision, it has the feel of a futuristic release. David Gelman is a musician on top of the world right now, and as long as he keeps his nose to the grindstone, he’s going to enjoy this business and everything it can yield for its brighter young stars.