Published Apr 09, 2020Bruce Springsteen's influence is so wide-reaching and subtly pervasive that it's often difficult to parse who's been sipping the engine oil-spiked Kool-Aid and who hasn't. Sometimes, it's easy — listening to Brian Dunne's Selling Things, there's little doubt about who drives his artistic spirit.
Dunne's music is the platonic ideal of the modern American singer-songwriter, toeing the line between specificity and broad appeal. His new record is full of references to literature, politics, bars, debts, rivers and ghosts — a glittering Springsteenian mini-cosmos. The son of a factory worker and a secretary, it's no surprise that Dunne counts the Boss as inspiration, though you could've guessed it anyway; the first words heard on Selling Things are "State Trooper."
Despite its clear veneration for a certain canon of workmanlike guitar music, Selling Things doesn't trade in many obvious decade-specific sonic signifiers. There aren't any blocky "Dancing in the Dark" synths or dry '70s textures – it's a lushly produced record, shimmering with echo and a clean, sun-lit atmosphere courtesy of Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo. There are also moments of intriguing strangeness, like the way a chorus of keening voices play the part of guitar drone on "Nothing Really Matters."
However, a producer may be the only thing shared by Dunne and a band like Big Thief. Where Adrianne Lenker's gravitational pull comes from her ability to tap into the ether, Dunne's writing is grounded in the here and now. His stories are plain-spoken and satisfyingly lived-in, each song a rumination on the romantic, financial and political realities of life in modern America.
Dunne isn't interested in pushing boundaries, but he makes good use of his relatively traditionalist palette. He's slapping some new paint on the wheel and letting it shine, unconcerned with reinvention. "Walk Me Home" might be the best example of his sturdy song writing, dressed in watery guitar and twinkling chorus harmonies. Selling Things is a surprisingly self-assured record, the work of an artist who seems to understand exactly where he stands. (Tone Tree Music)