Three very good reasons exist to hate Rusty Truck’s album Luck’s Changing Lanes without ever listening to it:
1. It’s a vanity project from celebrity photographer Mark Seliger, a brazen attempt to cross the line between member of the media and actual celebrity.
2. It’s studded with unearned guest appearances from icons like T Bone Burnett, Sheryl Crow, Jakob Dylan, Lenny Kravitz, Willie Nelson, Rob Thomas and Gillian Welch. Any album with liner notes that read, “Sheryl Crow: Accordion” implies that showing off your famous buddies seems more important than, you know, finding an actual accordion player. Also: Rob Thomas?
3. It’s the “second album” from Rusty Truck — despite containing almost the exact same material included on its debut, Broken Promises. A couple of new songs are tacked on, a bonus disc of music videos is thrown in, and viola: a sophomore album. The decision to repackage the same material under a new title seems inexplicable at best and cravenly calculated at worst. To think Seliger’s label, Rykodisc, hopes to get a few extra purchases from Rusty Truck fans oblivious to the fact they’re buying the same album for a second time should seem an understatement.
With all of this weighing against it, the album isn’t bad. It’s not exactly good either, and it nearly buckles under the weight of Mark Seliger’s Amazing Superfriends, but a fair amount of pleasure can be taken in these melodic, unassuming country songs.
Seliger has a way with a vocal hook and a melancholic turn of phrase. All simplistic, derivative in the extreme, but this somehow becomes a strength. A song like “Never Going Back”, driven by soft pedal-steel and high, lonesome vocals, feels both generic and eternal — it could easily have been sung by Townes Van Zandt, Conway Twitty or Garth Brooks. It’s a microcosm of the album as a whole: What it lacks in originality it makes up for with warmth and familiarity.
Still, a bizarre feeling of wealth and excess exists that’s entirely at odds with the mood of these songs. The sound is slick and crystal clear when these songs would be better served by a sort of hazy back-porch low fidelity. Seliger’s high and tuneful voice is rather thin, and producer Jakob Dylan overcompensates by repeatedly overdubbing the vocals, effectively thickening them up and stripping them of immediacy and personality.
While most of the celebrity cameos successfully subsume into the album’s mood — Ms. Crowe, it turns out, plays a perfectly fine accordion — one disastrous misstep stands out, On the lovely, heartsick ballad, “A Thousand Kisses,” he attempts to duet with Willie Nelson. The moment when Nelson’s effortlessly affecting twang and jazz-like phrasing replaces Seliger’s voice causes a shiver to run down your spine. And, if you have any taste at all, you suddenly wonder what you’re doing listening to this middle-of-the-road pablum when you could just dig out your copy of “Red Headed Stranger” and crank up the volume on the genuine article.