By Pat Moran | From the July-August 2022 issue of Strings magazine
A sweet, nostalgic sadness permeates the shimmering, genre-bending creations presented by Dallas Ugly on their debut album, Watch Me Learn, but a closer listen reveals a strategy for honoring memories while breaking their spell. The trio—fiddler Libby Weitnauer, guitarist Owen Burton, and bassist Eli Broxham—met at DePaul University in Chicago, before life cast them out into the world: Weitnauer to study classical violin in New York, Broxham to the Windy City’s bluegrass scene, and Burton to the Peace Corps in Senegal.
Watch Me Learn
As a result, the disparate sounds of classical, bluegrass, and Senegal’s griot tradition—plus pop, folk, and country—coalesce on this collection.
Weitnauer laments, “It will never be this good again,” on “Remember When You’re Leaving,” as Burton’s and Broxham’s wistful harmonies entwine over celestial hip-hop keyboards and sighing pedal steel. The result suggests forlorn country as played on a delicate music box.
Burton’s guitar traces a tangled tarantella on the Celtic-flavored “Saint-Louis,” a litany of last calls in dive bars. On the jazz-pop reverie “Liberated No Ones,” Weitnauer’s fiddle kicks up dust devils as the lyrics describe a sepia vision of an abandoned home bursting into technicolor flashes of memory.
The balance of the album, however, steps away from eulogizing an idealized past. With the sashaying “Part of a Time,” Dallas Ugly suggests that burnished nostalgia may just be a habit they’ve outlived, a notion furthered on “Gold.” Here Broxham’s rubbery bass duels with Burton’s psychedelic guitar in a sprightly tune that notes that sentiment is tart as well as sweet.
“Ought to Miss You by Now” punctuates fuzzed-out reverberating guitar with whirligig corkscrew fiddle, as lyrics shift from yearning to acceptance, hesitation to resolve. It’s the difference between indulging in luxurious memories and moving on.