“The Wall,” the second song on David Olney’s brand-new album This Side or the Other, begins with a slinky shaker groove layered atop over-compressed, semi-distorted tom-toms and bass drum, and the effect is unnerving. “The Wall” and several other tracks on the album provide a perfect sonic distillation of the state of our nation, like the visceral unease when you see approaching storm clouds. Though there’s no explicit conversation about the nation’s political tensions anywhere on This Side or the Other, the names and lyrics of this song and several others (“Always the Stranger,” “Border Town,” “I Spy” and the title track) hint at the sense of loneliness, alienation and fear that grips the nation on every side (albeit for different reasons). Though directly political lyrics are sometimes justified in trying times, the best art has always been a little more nuanced and metaphorical — not to mention that it ages better, after whatever calamitous situation that inspired it has long passed. The entire album has a mournful but sweet air about it, and co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson wisely keeps the proceedings moody and uncluttered. (A cover of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” with an assist from The McCrary Sisters is particularly exquisite.) Olney is a master songwriter whose work has been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Del McCoury, but he’s a compelling artist in his own right, with an exceptionally wry wit and a palpable vulnerability — he’s not so much performing as just being himself onstage, and it’s pretty damn endearing