Music

Dust City Opera rides an eclectic wind

Catch the self-proclaimed indie folk-rock band as it pushes the envelope of Americana

By Dena Miller
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/8/19

What's your listening pleasure? Country, alt, blues, jazz, metal, old-time rock 'n' roll? Easy, isn't it, to rely on categorization for a speedy definition of who we are and what we like.

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Music

Dust City Opera rides an eclectic wind

Catch the self-proclaimed indie folk-rock band as it pushes the envelope of Americana

Posted

What's your listening pleasure? Country, alt, blues, jazz, metal, old-time rock 'n' roll? Easy, isn't it, to rely on categorization for a speedy definition of who we are and what we like. But maybe there's something out there that defies it: in this case, a sound for which there are no words to describe what you just heard.

It's likely that Dust City Opera falls into that category. Check them out on YouTube or Spotify and dare yourself to pin a label on them.

The self-proclaimed New Mexico indie folk-rock band pushes the envelope of Americana so hard it seems to blow itself up. Instead, when listening to their debut album, "Heaven," you may recognize some eccentric circus music, perhaps channeling Tom Waits' "Cemetery Polka," or some strains of roguish swing. Maybe some early Steely Dan or Tin Pan Alley or cabaret?

It's an astonishing mix perpetrated by singer-songwriter Paul Hunton, the band's lead vocalist. "We're known for our unique instrumentation and crafty songwriting, juxtaposing dark, bold subject matter over whimsical, lighthearted melodies," said Sydney Counce, business manager and sometimes lyricist for Dust City Opera. "[Hunton's] songwriting is strikingly visual and spans the spectrum from playful to apocalyptic, balancing his powerful voice over exceptional arrangements of dreamy guitar licks and intensely rich horns." It's staggering and, at the same time, totally addictive.

Get hooked yourself when the band, having already made a notable splash in Albuquerque and the international music scene, makes its first Taos appearance Saturday (Nov. 9) at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show is at 8 p.m. Tickets to this all-ages show are $8. They are available at the door or at holdmyticket.com.

Counce indicated this is the band's last significant 2019 appearance in New Mexico, so they want to make the most of it, and Hunton agreed. "In 2020 our focus will be on touring outside of the state so the show in Taos is special to us," he said. "Not just because it's our first time in Taos, but because we're giving our all to the state we're from."

With a new album in the works, Dust City Opera will preview some of those tracks in addition to covering the entirety of "Heaven," copies of which will be available for purchase at the show. The lyrics of "Estate Sale," which Hunton mentioned as a personal favorite, are unapologetically wistful and morose but with a sly wink: "Oh darlin', I don't know why I'm dyin',/It'll be better when it's over/ And they'll come and sell our things."

Other tracks like "A Place" are surprisingly tender and evocative: "It's a place where you can stare out and still see grass growing fair,/It's a place where your feet fall in forests of summer's green hair,/It's a place where the evening pours its sun like honey through the air,/It's a place where the stars are ours."

Yet, there's this. Mel Minter's column in the May 2019 issue of Albuquerque the Magazine said of Dust City Opera, "For listeners, it can be a bit disconcerting to find yourself tapping your foot to a tune about a dead lover ... or a love song set in the environmental cataclysm ... which could win Hunton the moniker 'the Cole Porter of the Apocalypse."

Like we said, there are no words.

In addition to Hunton fronting the band and lending his masterly rhythm guitar riffs, the other members include Jared Putnam (lead guitar), Travis Roark (trombone, harmonies), Justin McLauchin (bass), Clara Byom (accordion, clarinets), Greg Williams (drums) and, of course, Counce, who has been likened to being the "fifth Beatle" of the group.

The band members have been culled by Hunton from top-notch talent in the Albuquerque area, namely from groups such as the Silver String Band, Le Chat Lunatique, the Parson Sisters and the Ordinary Things. "Since all of our musicians maintain their ties with other groups and have other commitments, we are having some equally talented subs coming up to Taos, including Jackie Chacon on drums and Scott Brewer on bass," Hunton said.

Hunton was born and raised in Albuquerque, and trained classically on the guitar at the Albuquerque Academy followed by vocal and dramatic studies at the University of New Mexico. "Theater studies helped me develop the variety of characters and voices that I've used in my songwriting," he said. And, "Picking up along the way a variety of influences that affect the style of our arrangements, like exotic chord progressions, has led to the sound of Dust City Opera."

The name of the band is itself a nod to his New Mexican roots. "I wanted something grandiose, something evoking the wild, wild Wild West," he continued. "I recycled it from an earlier band I had formed, but those members were totally cool with me using it now."

In addition to CDs of "Heaven," Hunton said, "We'll have tons of merch[andise], so get some stuff, take some photos and mingle with us before and after the show. We love hanging out with our audiences."

There's no doubt you'll love hanging out with them, as well.

Learn more about this singular band at dustcityopera.com, or visit their Facebook page. To contact Sydney Counce, email dustcityopera@gmail.com.

For more information, call (575) 758-1900, ext. 1, or visit taosmesabrewing.com.

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