In his anthem "Living and the Dead," road-hungry songwriter David Dondero calls his chosen vocation "highway archeology." Add folk architecture, soul excavation and cardiological spelunking to that job description. Over the past half a decade, Dondero's odometer hasn't slept as he's relentlessly toured the side roads and shitty bars of America, spreading his shaky, open-hearted confessionals like some thrift-store troubadour. If you've ever wondered how Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst might sound if you replaced his Robert Smith pacifier with the broken bottles of Townes Van Zandt and Paul Westerberg, then here you go. Dondero's newest disc, Live at the Hemlock, is a rousing in-concert set that ably follows his gritty, semi-autobio opus, 2003's The Transient. Both open with the rollicking "Living and the Dead," in which the self-styled student of the interstate reveals, "I played the skinny indie white-boy blues/In scuffed-up, military-style shoes." And he still does.
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