For awhile now, I’ve been intrigued by the burgeoning musical hotbed of Asheville, NC. I had a friend who worked in a coffee shop there who wanted to break into the music scene on the business side, and she’d often brag about the spoils of riches the city offers artists and the talent that’s springing up. It’s cheaper than Nashville and as cool as Brooklyn, so it’s unsurprising that the creative juices flow freely, unburdened by high rents and stiff competition.

Enter Matt Townsend, an Asheville artist who’s exploring a new side of himself on The Drifter and the Dream, Part 1, his third effort. Literally drifting away from his more mainstream acoustic sound to embrace eclectic flavors and (my favorite) shades of ’60s folk, Townsend is a prime example of the quality of work coming from North Carolina.

The album’s themes range from socio-political commentary to ennui-laden romance to utterly relatable themes of loneliness. “A lot of the songs explore the themes of isolation in the modern world,” says Townsend, “the spiritual longing that accompanies that, and a kind of search for meaning in an increasingly chaotic world.”

Drawing on influences including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Neutral Milk Hotel, and calling upon the talents of a dream cast of North Carolina musicians like Bill Berg (who played drums on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks) River Guerguerian, Kat Williams, and more, Townsend crafts a powerful quintet of tracks that feel lush, well-constructed, and perfect for staring down a new year… perhaps rather precariously.

Songs like “Went Up to the Mountain” rely on strikingly little instrumentation and instead embrace simplicity and interesting arrangements to complement Townsend’s lyrics. Get your requisite guitar licks and gorgeous harmonies on “The Great American Madness,” and turn to “Roaming Twilight” and “Freedom Is Calling Again” for a taste of ethereal beauty. But my personal favorite is the Dylan-esque “Katie” with its harmonica riffs and whines. It’s easy to believe it’s been trapped in a time capsule for the past 50 years.

You can think of this album as the bridge between eras and a musical trip to America’s new hotbed. Keep an eye on Asheville and keep an ear on Matt Townsend; he’s on tour throughout the East Coast if you’d like to experience some high-quality folk in person. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here counting the days until part two of The Drifter and the Dream is released.