Over the course of two albums—the entire Dust catalog, both included on this new CD—released in 1971 and 1972, they crafted a hard rock sound that set them apart from the leading blues-based progenitors (Cream, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad) on both sides of the pond. Guitarist, lead singer, and songwriter Richie Wise was not only a capable soloist, he brought an arsenal of interesting guitar sounds and a style that wasn’t overly reliant on borrowed blues riffs. Bassist Kenny Aaronson continually explored possibilities beyond root notes, while laying down a rock-solid foundation, and gave the material extra flavor with is slide and steel guitars. Marc Bell was a beast on drums, with ferocious bursts of fills peppered throughout his propulsive playing. Together they brought something new to the power trio format and the nascent heavy metal genre.
The frantic opening track, “Stone Woman,” is a précis of what made Dust so heavy and what set them apart: a compelling riff, manic drumming, and that seemingly malapropos steel guitar soaring over the song. It’s a riveting opening and, you’d think, a statement of purpose that Dust is going to nail you to the wall from here on out.
Indeed, the intro to “Chasin’ Ladies” sounds as if it’s going to be one cowbell short of being an utter “Mississippi Queen” rip, only to confound expectations with an unpredictable vocal melody and double-time bridge that takes the song into uniquely Dust territory. “Goin’ Easy” tamps down the volume and intensity for the kind of bluesy boogie sound that Status Quo was then transitioning to.
“From a Dry Camel,” the first album’s centerpiece, is a 10-minute guitar epic in ¾ time, a showcase for Wise’s arsenal of heavy tones and riffs. Not a blazingly noteworthy soloist, Wise shrewdly makes up for his shortcomings with power chords and effects, making the monolithic track Dust’s signature metal landmark.
Wise’s tasty tremolo guitar and Aaronson’s slide work highlight the slow, moody “Often Shadows Felt,” offering a glimpse of the variety of styles the band would employ on their second, superior album, Hard Attack.
For some ill-considered reason, the Legacy CD presents the two albums in reverse chronological order, so the band’s evolution isn’t apparent when it’s played in its track order. And by the second album, Dust had gained considerably in finesse and the strength of their songwriting. Album opener “Pull Away/So Many Times” is one of their best efforts, somewhat reminiscent of Led Zep’s version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” in its dynamics, but with a unique riff and some searing guitar soloing that’s among Wise’s best. “Walk In the Soft Rain” showcases a gift for unusual, unexpected vocal melodies that could have set Dust apart from the rest of the metal crowd had they gone on. Even when they harken back to the heavy basics of the first album with “Learning To Die,” the sound is darker, the vocal more fierce, and the drumming more ferocious.
Their greatest step forward, and the standout of the two albums, is the stately “Thusly Spoken,” with lyrics (by producer-cowriter Kenny Kerner) that evoke angels and cherubim over a Procol Harum-esque palate of piano, organ, and strings. Though atypical of their other studio work (and certainly of their live approach, which has been described as “faster and louder” than any of their competition), “Thusly Spoken” suggests that Dust could have been heavy prog-rock contenders if they’d chosen to go that route.
Despite two strong albums and a growing reputation as an estimable live act, Dust found that neither their label, Kama Sutra, nor their management was able to help them reach the top echelon. The band folded not long after the release of Hard Attack, and, good as they are, the two albums would have faded to obscurity had it not been for the band member’s post-Dust activities. Kenny Aaronson went on to become one of top bassists-for-hire of the past few decades, backing such luminaries as Bob Dylan and Dave Edmunds. Richie Wise became a successful producer, helming (with Kenny Kerner) the first two Kiss albums, among many others. And drummer Marc Bell came to international fame as Markey Ramone, an accomplishment that Wise says led to the Dust re-release.
They may be better known for what they did after the band’s demise, but now that it’s again available it’s obvious that Dust had the goods to be huge. This long-lost chapter from the dawn of American heavy metal sounds as head-bangingly potent at ever.