Like the railroads before it, the now half-century-old interstate system is a combination of baseline utility and dreamlike metaphor. Generally linear connectors of population centers sliced through the flattest terrain available, interstate highways serve as a supply line to, and the fastest route through, the hinterlands.
At the same time (again, like railroads), they tend to rush folks around unique territory and past rustic burgs, even as they provide ever-beckoning escape routes for the folks who populate the areas inside the grid. On #80, Iowa City’s Dave Olson addresses some of the Hawkeye State’s people and places bypassed by Interstate 80.
Borrowing Kelly Pardekooper’s elastic Devil’s House Band, the itinerant short-order cook has assembled a debut that couches his remarkably natural Dylan/Prine rasp with a minimalist blend of blue-collar folk, fat-string-guitar country, naked rockabilly and populist folk-rock.
It doesn’t all work to perfection, but there’s a self-effacing, Woody Guthrie quality here that’s hard to deny. The result feels something like a sturdy, well-made fence that just had to be built. From the shivering empathy of “The Workin’ Life” to the Sun-era Orbison hip-shake of “Candy” to the hypnotic, inward spiral of “Alien Song” and beyond, Olson creates compelling side roads that make it worth taking the green-signed off-ramp. Go out way past the Stuckey’s…