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Son Volt, ‘American Central Dust’ (Rounder)

With his mournful aura and literary urges, Son Volt leader Jay Farrar could be considered the opposite of fun. Still, he’s an eloquent, thought-provoking dude, whether describing a true-life nautical disaster (“Sultana”), lamenting industrial America’s decline (“When the Wheels Don’t Move”) or pondering mortality via Keith Richards (“Cocaine and Ashes”). And the energetic players temper Farrar’s grave persona — for all the vintage touches, this is a deceptively funky band, as the sultry “Down to the Wire” proves.