by Stuart Blake Hayden
September 10, 2012
This fifth studio album from Jesse Elliott and friends spreads as far across time and space as the vast network of musicians that appear on it. With musical notables from The Mynabirds, Phosphorescent, Deer Tick, Langhorne Slim, and Jukebox the Ghost joining in, this mystical roadmap to an Appalachian Shangri-La crosses a geographical lifetime to reunite old friends at one sonic location. Here, a heart “scheming on maps” finds death, birth, love, and breakfast alongside Apache Junction, Denver, and the Susquehanna as points of interest.
An apropos accompaniment to an impending journey, These United States speak to the excitement and anxiety of adventure; the grief of loss and leaving; as well as the hope that the good times never end. Inevitably, however, life’s scenery passes so quickly. In “The Angel's Share,” Elliott notes that “trying to interrogate the time escaping quick,” like straining to label a blurred landscape with a definite place name, merely makes following “the curve of the lines” all the more difficult; “the feeling that we might explode before we bend.”
Alas, These United States arrive at a place of resolution. The tracks “Phoenix” and “Never Stop Falling” ground the existential journey in a place suggestive of relative consistency and stability. Physical geography roots the complex political and social landscape of human geography to that of a stronger, more enduring and tangible entity, Earth itself. Ecological themes, including the river, the rock, the sea, the wind, the mountain, the sun, and the soil, guide the wayward human home to the present (time as well as space); to “sense everything around...deeply” and to “melt into the desert.”
From the early eager beats, through sobering homesickness, and “past the jack-knifing moans, coming in to Western Slope ,” These United States “make it from the center of the earth back up” with no fear, no shame, no apologies, and no need for a map to Shangri-La.