The many parts and pieces that comprise Some Assembly Required snap together in a truly satisfying way, save a few bum edges. Featuring special guests on each song, the album wins in the personnel department, but it’s hard to tell if the guests – John Scofield, Tony Rice, Grace Potter, Mike Gordon, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Richie Havens among them – were simply shoehorned into existing songs or if they had input into the recording and songwriting process. The album is unbalanced in quality and pacing, yet the band still comes out of the whole affair stronger than ever.
Some of the songs sound tailored for the attending musician, like the majestic introspection of “All That I Am Now,” which is urged into the mystic by Richie Havens’ prophetic voice and forceful guitar work. Others sound like typical folk-rock fare from AOD leader Reid Genauer, but with extra icing. The expansive rock number “Pedal Down,” for instance, features Zach and Andrew Gabbard of Buffalo Killers, but you’d hardly notice the difference unless you’re a huge Buffalo Killers fan because their contributions mesh so well with what AOD is already doing with the song.
Most numerous on the album are the songs that probably already existed but are jazzed up with bonus instrumental work, like David Grisman’s subtle mandolin work on “Cold Coffee,” Mike Gordon’s bio-mechanical bass on “Arc of the Sun,” and Keller Williams’ elegant guitar work on the rootsy “Second Song.” “High Brow” is right in the wheelhouse of moe. guitarist Al Schnier, who simply accentuates the song’s shimmering roots-pop with a tasteful solo and gritty, distorted rhythmic strums. The upbeat “High Brow” is nestled among a handful of the album’s less engaging songs, which makes it a key player in the listenability of Some Assembly Required.
The overall success of the album is somewhat inconsistent, evidenced by adjacent tracks like “Borrowed Feet,” in which John Scofield’s liquid guitar lines seem a bit out of place within the song’s dark edges, and “Revelry,” where the dueling acoustic guitars of Martin Sexton and Tony Rice perfectly lend a classic, CSNY-type sound to the song. Truly forgettable moments are few and far between, but they glare prominently because of the album’s frustrating pace. “Light Blue Lover” doesn’t live up to the promising inclusion of Tony Rice and Grace Potter, and the dobro work of Jerry Douglas is pretty much the only redeeming quality of “Leadbelly.” Theresa Andersson can’t salvage the plodding, ill-timed “Straight,” and the album-closing track “You Lay the Dust,” while sweet in meaning, does little to reward the listener for making it to the end.
Some Assembly Required doesn’t quite live up to the lofty bar set by its dazzling guest list, and it’s not Assembly of Dust’s best album by a long shot. However, it is still one of the strongest roots rock offerings of the year, and Genauer’s songwriting shines as always. All of a sudden, Assembly of Dust has a catalog that is growing more interesting and varied by the year. It is a testament to the band that even when there are too many cooks about, the master chef’s vision still shines through in the finished product.
Rating: 7.9 out of 10