On the title track of 2011's Is That You in the Blue?, Dex Romweber had a wish and a little evil in his eyes: "I hope you find loneliness within whatever dark night you're in." But the new Images 13 opens with "Roll On," a glance in the rear view, his voice cutting over a simmering blues rave-up. "I didn't want to lose you," he sings. "But that's the nature of the game." It's not as simple as turning the key in the ignition; his lover's memory haunts every single track of this post-breakup album. The anger has drained away, revealing a still-tender, Rorschach-shaped scab.
Romweber acknowledges the travail with the very next song, "Long Battle Coming," a '60s garage-soul stunner that reads like a palindrome, in that its sentiment works well looking backward or forward. Has this "long storm brewing" come or gone? Romweber slithers for the zipper with the jazzy pop-torch "Baby I Know What It's Like To Be Alone," which suspends its hungry heart like bait on a hook. Even then, the memory's never far away. Romweber returns to the thought of his past with a cover of The Who's wonderfully buoyant "So Sad About Us," teaming with Southern Culture on the Skids' Mary Huff to channel Neil Diamond.
Despite the upheaval, Images 13 stands among Romweber's best by balancing his charging rockabilly and roots with other stylistic interests. There are spy- and slinking-rock instrumentals, as well as a deliciously creepy cover of Harry Lubin's "Weird (Aurora Borealis)," haunted here by a Theremin. There's a bouncy, handclapping folk cover of Johnny Burnette's biting "One Sided Love Affair," too.
The album's centerpiece, the crooner ballad "I Don't Want to Listen," might be the most surprising look of all. Here, Romweber's loping majesty recalls Sinatra's "My Way." Stranded in the depths of a purgatorial depression, Romweber seems to favor neither life nor death. Instead, he stands still, bidding "farewell" repeatedly as the music swells to a close. It's unusual for him to cut an album with such an emotional laser, but that poignancy serves as the basis for a 30-minute set that's as vibrant, eclectic and lived-in as anything Romweber has ever produced.
Label: Bloodshot Records
This article appeared in print with the headline "The savages"