Sound Advice: Son Volt with Anders Parker (April 14)

Pioneering Alt Country group Son Volt plays the Southgate House Revival.

Apr 12, 2017 at 10:46 am

click to enlarge Son Volt - Photo: David McClister
Photo: David McClister
Son Volt
The splintering of the very popular Uncle Tupelo in the mid-’90s provided conclusive evidence that its two massively gifted songwriters were better off on separate playgrounds. Jeff Tweedy has certainly been a diverse musical juggernaut with Wilco over the past two decades, but Jay Farrar has been an unparalleled sonic explorer, collaborating with the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd (on Farrar’s solo Sebastopol), Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard (on the soundtrack for the Jack Kerouac documentary film One Fast Move or I’m Gone), Varnaline’s Anders Parker (with their transformative Folk duo Gob Iron) and with his genre spanning band Son Volt.

With Son Volt, Farrar has examined the breadth of American music, from shambling Rock to twangy Americana in all its varied Honky Tonk Country and dusty Folk glory, particularly on the band’s first three albums: 1995’s critically acclaimed Trace, 1997’s Straightaways and 1998’s Wide Swing Tremolo. During Son Volt’s subsequent six-year hiatus, Farrar charted an acoustic solo path before reconvening his Son Volt bandmates to contribute a cover of Alejandro Escovedo’s “Sometimes” to the Por Vida benefit album in 2004. 

The reunion inspired plans for a new album, but the original band made some unforeseen legal demands, so singer/songwriter Farrar assembled a new version of Son Volt to translate his modern protest songs that made up 2005’s Okemah and the Melody of Riot and its companion piece, 2007’s The Search. Many reviews cited 2009’s American Central Dust as a return to form while docking points for not taking any chances with that form; the album still hit No. 44 on the Billboard 200 album chart, matching Straightaways for the best chart position in Son Volt’s history.

It would be four years before Son Volt dropped the lighter yet still introspective Honky Tonk in 2013, and another four until the recent release of the band’s Notes of Blue. For the new album, Farrar mixed his longstanding love of twangy American music and an equally lengthy appreciation of Blues legends Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell (specifically their propensity for alternate tunings) with direct nods to British Folk icon Nick Drake. As a result, Notes of Blue whispers with the best of Son Volt’s acoustic quietude and crackles with the band’s patented electric Neil Young and Crazy Horse intensity, a template that will likely inform their latest stage presentation. 

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