Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Son Volt: First Impressions

Well here I am again playing catch up and approaching a band with a pretty long history through their most recent album--in this case Son Volt's The Search--but so goes it.

I have always been a bit mystified by the term alt-country (as apparently many are), so I guess I can't really weigh in on where this fits within the genre. Had I never heard that term I would have simply thought of this as a solid acoustic rock album and if I had to compare it to another artist, I think that comparison would be to Bruce Cockburn. Jay Farrar's voice and the guitar work, particularly on the more rockin and political pieces really remind me of Cockburn--although I take it that tracks like "The Picture" are a bit of new terrain for Farrar musically.

At other moments, comparisons to REM seem apt, particularly the middle parts of the disc on tracks like "Satellite" (does everyone have a song with that title?) and "Automatic Society." And then there really are what feel much more like straight up acoustic country tunes. All of which is to say that it is a really nice mix and sequencing of music. I should also mention that while used sparingly, the organ work adds a nice tone on a few of the tracks.

Now that said, the general mood and lyrics of the album are definitely not what you would call upbeat. The one-line opening track "Slow Hearse" sets the mood. I know that a number of critics reviewed the disc as Farrar "searching" (get it) for hope among despair, but I think the best description I read was "bittersweet." You hear lyrics like those on "Adrenaline and Heresy" and the lines about leaving a lover and entering the "absence pit" and I never quite buy that the slightly upbeat ending is anywhere as sincere as the struggle with separation that dominates the song. Same on "Methamphetamine" where Farrar hopes for better, earlier days, but ultimately you are left feeling the weight of a life ruined by addiction.

Ultimately the mix of music and the searching lyrics (sorry) come together to make a really solid album. And while Farrar ends the album trying to convince us that "it can only get better from here" because as he sings earlier, he "can't stand any more indecision"--indecision, the muddle of life, and the "daily drag" ultimately seem like the only thing of which he is sure. That actually makes for a better album I think.

If you are as behind as me, you can sample some here.

So that is my first impressions of Son Volt--will be curious to find out how this album stands up against earlier stuff.


Sandusky said...

It would be impossible for me to give you an unbiased opinion or recommendation concerning Jay Farrar, so let's just get that out there.

Get his first Son Volt album Trace - way more twangy, and get his first solo effort Sebastopol, more twang than The Search but arguably he first real departure from "alt-country/americana". Then get Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne, a twang/rock back and forth battle that will leave you breathless (not to mention Tweedy's best UT stuff by far).

So ya, I'm a fan. Son Volt isn't my favorite incarnation of Jay Farrar, but any Jay is good Jay.

For the record I'd put any of Son Volt's first three albums above the last two, but that's just my two bits. :)

CPS said...

Hey Sandusky--thanks for the input. I am new to this whole nexus of artists, but am definitely working to explore the whole tangled web of music that came out of UT.

Hope you keep offering suggestions.

lexdexter said...

i'd recommend getting Son Volt's Trace, Straightaways and Wide Swing Tremolo before exploring the

lexdexter said...

...subsequent, solo Farrar albs.