Here’s what you’ll get with the outlaw folk of Rust Dust’s Diviners and Shivs: One voice, a few fine old instruments, and an unflinching, all-of-a-piece performance that will reach you in the moment and resonate with historical memory.
Rust Dust, formally known as Ardell Jason Shealy Stutts, is a South Carolina native with a healthy aversion for barbers and liars. He earns his keep repairing and dealing in guitars and amps of a certain age. After bonding with Oscar-winning, Grammy-nominated producer John DeNicola over their mutual affection for this sort of vintage gear, Jason explained his concept for a record.
“A set of songs came together. I rearranged and de-arranged them until they tell the story of Diviners and Shivs,” Jason says. “They seemed to fit naturally with the country, blues and gospel songs I always held dear, and I hoped to record them, live, with someone who wanted to contribute to the sound and feel so that this wasn’t just a ‘dude with an acoustic’ record.”
John was in. “Jason wanted to do this like a performance art piece, a live recording straight to two-track tape, and I thought my barn studio in upstate New York would be the perfect setting,” John says. “While Jason would be the only guitarist and singer, he saw the project as the work of a ‘band,’ with me and our engineer, Andris J. Balins, ‘playing’ the gear.”
So Rust Dust made use of the large hayloft and milk house, placing different mics in various locations to capture subtle nuances. They even used the corn silo as a reverb unit, putting a mic at the top and bottom and sending Jason’s voice and guitar through a speaker. Then they left the building entirely and recorded outside.
You’ll hear this process in the prison-break intensity of the title track and the rawboned blues of “Just Can’t Keep From Crying.” You’ll feel it in the acidic sincerity of “Nothing Hurts Worse.” You’ll know it through a medley that teams Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs” with Rust Dust’s “Modern Times,” a tragedy for the Trump era with rough and tumble guitar, before seguing into the possible salvation of “Everything Got Softer.” By the time you reach the end of Side Two, with the almost jaunty delivery of “Wayfaring Stranger” and an “Amazing Grace” from your strangest dream, you’ll believe in salvation, goddamnit.
“I hope everyone can listen and dream their own story of Diviners and Shivs. John and Andris made sonic changes live and played the barn, board and tape machine while we recorded straight to tape. It gives the album a cool sound and movement.”
Adds John: “What you hear is simply wonderful songs, with all the excitement and immediacy of a great live performance. Diviners and Shivs harkens back to music that was pure and raw while still being very contemporary—an heir to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Ralph Stanley that reflects a unique take on the world right now.”
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Rust Dust "Strange Cake"
Nothing Hurts Worse