Drought, poverty and dirt defined America’s southern plains in the 1930s. Folks who depended on the land for survival were devastated by monstrous clouds of dust that swept across the region between 1932 and 1940, killing crops and livestock. Already reeling from the worst economic disaster of the early 20th century, residents, primarily of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, found themselves facing an environmental disaster of epic proportions.
Roots singer/songwriter Grant Maloy Smith reflects on their experiences with his new album “Dust Bowl – American Stories” (Suburban Cowboy Records). With 13 tracks, the album tells personal stories about enduring love, lost love, leaving home and, in some cases, staying home and fighting to survive. Some ballads are sadly beautiful, while others are as gritty as the Dust Bowl itself, and others uplifting.
“There were many factors that led to the Dust Bowl, but a seemingly-endless drought combined with over-farming and poor land management stressed the earth and contributed to one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century,” Smith said. “Those same topics resonate today. My album is a cautionary tale, but it’s also about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of great adversity.”
The signature song, “Old Black Roller,” derives its title from the nickname given to sky-high walls of choking dust. Like an approaching storm, the song begins slowly and builds to a crescendo. A more rocking version returns at the end of the album, as if to warn the listener that Mother Nature isn’t finished yet.
The first single from Smith’s album being released to radio, “I Come From America,” celebrates the diversity and strength of farm families forced to flee their homes, many of them relocating to California. (“We’re the desperate and unwanted, We’re the strangers from the shanty side of town, Do my eyes look proud but haunted? That’s the destiny in me, That’s the Texas that you see.”)