Dietrich Strause’s How Cruel That Hunger Binds is a spiritually tinged journey through the sounds of America. With a sweeping, textured sound, and a healthy sense of wonderment, Strause creates a rich and expansive world.
The opening track, “The Beast That Rolls Within,” sets the stage with Strause’s experience in the winding tunnels of Boston’s subway system. A beggar rides the train and asks for money indirectly: “Mercy, brother, I must beg of you / For the good grace and the bright trace of the light that shines in you.” His plea goes unanswered and the man shuffles off, but it’s clear that this moment leaves an imprint on Strause.
How Cruel That Hunger Binds explores faith, God, and love and these religious symbols and references permeate Strause’s work. His father is a Lutheran preacher and the words of those sermons seep into his songwriting. At times, the references feel overused and out of place, but they serve a purpose in the narrative.
In “Home From The Heartland,” Strause stumbles into a tent revival after “[Driving] for six long days/ On the seventh I stopped to rest.” On “The Dove” the universal symbol of peace sings a hosanna and lays a branch at his feet. “Spring Has Sprung,” features a character who only sees couples walking hand in hand “like someone’s building an ark.”
Strause’s songs read like literature and by pairing these lyrics with distinct sounds, Strause leaves a lasting impression. “Pennsylvania” sounds like a slowed down “Auld Lang Syne” with sad and contemplative horns coupled with lyrics that practically tumble out of Strause’s mouth. It’s a combination that gives the song real weight, and the whole ends up greater than the parts.
The tracks feel like chapters of the many different lives Strause has led. He has spent time walking dogs, recording songs for a Chinese textbook, selling handmade stained glass windows, working on a farm building a greenhouse and fences, and participating in medical studies for PTSD.
The album mixes a host of Americana influences; folk, blues, gospel, jazz and rock. “The Dove,” which finds Strause dreaming about a dove that brings him hope, is scored with a 1950’s slow-dance sound that reinforces the dream imagery. “So Long, So Far” mixes folk and blues into a poppy result that sounds like M. Ward.
The album could have benefited from a few more tracks with an upbeat mix as the overall pace ends up dragging by the end. But How Cruel That Hunger Binds is intricate, far-reaching, and beautifully composed. Strause has his feet firmly planted in the soil and stares up and out at the world around him on this album. He has proven himself to be a gifted songwriter who can match his smart lyrics with any number of sounds.
Dietrich Strause will be playing the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on December 17th. Tickets can be found here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2723029
- Sweeping and full sound
- Lyrics bordering on literary
- Tour through Americana
- Heavy at times on religious imagery
- Would like to see more of an embrace of the pop-folk sound