Saluda, North Carolina, is a town that outsiders would believe only belongs to distant history, yet it’s very much alive and well. With postcard-worthy mountains on one side of the downtown area and still-active train tracks on the other, it practically begs to be written about in song. Its native son Aaron Burdett has put pen to paper and plectrum to string with just that in mind over the years, especially on songs such as “Pennies on the Tracks” that have touched on those train tracks and the railroad line that put them to use over the last century and a half.
On his latest, Dream Rich, Dirt Poor, Burdett still draws from his hometown roots, but he’s pulling from more recent personal experience as well. Burdett admits that his family living through financial trouble with a young child to care for inspired some of the themes found on the album, while others capture moments that are universal in scope, even though they may be deeply personal, such as the opening track, the scene-setting “Dirt Poor.”
Yet Burdett writes from more than just personal experience. Like any great songwriter, he creates compelling characters that draw you in to their world, if only for that specific moment in time. An example is the 63-year-old aluminum plant worker in “Arlo,” still living hand-to-mouth, who reveals in a moment of refreshing self-awareness, “If I say the right words at the right time, I can come off as a pretty good guy.”
Burdett peppers Dream Rich, Dirt Poor with plenty of such moments and memorable lines, including, “Spend my whole life standing next to fires wondering why I’m burned” in the closing “Too Far from Home.” Yet it’s the dreams and hopes of the less fortunate, of those who were dealt a “Hard Hand,” that keep the effort from falling into maudlin self-pity. You’re left with the feeling that even though hard times are being felt and lived through, just as the narrator in “Rockefeller” makes clear, confronting it with resilience, determination, and a sense of humor will make it bearable until the better times come.