Carrboro, with its cover shot of the railroad tracks that run through his hometown, where on a grey day or a dark night you'd find a young Dex immersing himself in the music of his idols, is his fourth record for Bloodshot (and his first for us a solo artist). Through 13 originals and far-ranging covers, Dex reaches into his steamer trunk of influences and inspirations, and fabricates an enthralling sonic quilt. As Dex describes his approach, "It doesn't matter to me what genre – if I like a song I might record it." It's all different, but all of one piece.
On Carrboro, Dex assumes several musical mantles (and uncharacteristically plays all or many of the instruments). There's the sparse and jumpy hillbilly liveliness of "Knock Knock (Who's That Knockin' On My Coffin Lid Door?)" with help from Rick Miller of Southern Culture On The Skids; "Lonesome Train," originally recorded by Cecilia Batten in nearby Chapel Hill in '57; and a take on the T. Bone Burnett-penned "I Don't Know," sung by The Dude and Ryan Bingham for the film Crazy Heart (says Dex: "the lyrics seem to be so much about my own life... damn I just had to record it"). With the fuller sound of the New Romans, a 10-piece Chapel Hill collective, "Nightide" is a Tarantino grind on the surf-deck of the USS Enterprise, while Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World" throbs with a thrilling apocalyptic gloom.
Dex's last-call crooner persona kicks off the album with a surprising contemporary cover, that of English singer-songwriter Findlay Brown's "I Had A Dream" ("It affected me deeply personally when I first heard it," Dex explains). He embraces "Smile," a Charlie Chaplin tune (yeah, you read that right) and the Jerry Lee Lewis obscurity "Tomorrow's Taking Baby Away" with Waits-ian levels of resignation and weariness. And no Dex Romweber record is complete without some instrumental wizardry. There's the tiki surf of "Midnight at Vic's" and the sunset dreamscape of "Out of the Way." He even turns "My Funny Valentine," the Rodgers and Hart Broadway chestnut from the 1930s into the soundtrack to a ghostly roller rink murder caper.
In the end, the album plays like the jukebox at the full service honky-tonk saloon, jazz club, Tin Pan Alley pitch house, and blues joint along the tracks. Get off at the Carrboro station.