Over Jay Farrar’s past few albums—with Son Volt and on his own—the country-rock singer-songwriter has struggled to fit his drawling monotone into contexts where it won’t sound so limiting. He’s tried matching his voice to an equally stark sound, and hiding behind more elaborate arrangements. Now, with Son Volt’s American Central Dust, Farrar reverts to the kind of straight-ahead, socially conscious roots music he’s been pushing since his Uncle Tupelo days. The songs on American Central Dust lean heavy on twang and moan, fiddles and mid-tempos, workingman’s laments and historical tragedy. Reduced to individual pieces, little on the album is exceptional. Songs like the snappily discursive bum-out “Down To The Wire,” the string-heavy weeper “Cocaine And Ashes,” the chugging, Springsteen-esque “No Turning Back,” and the morose shipwreck saga “Sultana” all stand out, but for the most part, the songs on American Central Dust aren’t exactly grabbers. Taken as a package, though, this is Farrar’s most consistent album in years, in large part because he no longer seems to be straining so much. American Central Dust shows Farrar in his comfort zone, recording songs he knows his fans will like, and not much caring whether his detractors get on board.