BEST LOCAL MUSIC COMPILATION - 2004
The Iron Range doesn't just love country music, it is country music: The ravaged north of our state is at once a thing of beauty, a product of human pain, and a terrain whose ownership and cultural control is far from decided yet (at least if environmentalists, Bible-bangers, workers, and corporations have anything to say about it). That an album's worth of gifted indie roots musicians, all influenced to one degree or another by country music, hail from the Cuyuna, Mesabi, and Gogebic ranges--well, it's a happy coincidence of punning and promotion for Duluth's Spinout Records. The small imprint's Iron Country is one of the most consistent (if overlooked) albums of last year. Its striking vocal turns (high-voiced Dana Thompson and the Almost Canadians), arresting musicianship (Charlie Parr on 12-string), and sheer pop magnetism (Haley Bonar, doing the road song proud on "Highway 16") are overwhelming. From mining on down, no single theme imposes itself, but the common wish to be heard above country's reflexive patriotism, and to record at Duluth's Sacred Heart Studio (a deconsecrated church), lends the 10 songs cohesiveness. On "We Are Under Mob Rule," Ol' Yeller singer Rich Mattson captures how much rural anonymity grates on people, even on those who accept it. And Frost Bitten Grass, closing the album, tackle the subject of earthly reincarnation sounding like the Statler Brothers, almost eager to provide worm food to plants, then to animals, then to people. Assaulted, salty, salt-of-the-earth stuff--it's all here for the devouring. Or the ignoring--the Iron Range is used to that.