SON VOLT RETURNS
Son Volt is a late 20th century band trying to adapt to the early part of the 21st century, as they search for their place within the world of popular music. Volt is led by Jay Farrar, who is partly responsible for helping make Americana cool again with the country-rock outfit Uncle Tupelo—always overshadowed by the co-creation of current Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy. Volt’s fifth album, appropriately titled The Search, brings new instruments, members, and techniques to their repertoire, allowing them to embark on a new territory of musical boundaries.
The opening track sets a wonderful, gloomy mood that, if followed correctly, would make this a remarkable experience of listening pleasure: a sparsely played piano tune, accompanied by drums and eventually a string section while Farrar mournfully sings over and over, “Feels like driving round, in a slow hearse.” The following track, however, ruins the mood with gleeful pop mush, overproduced with a repeating horn pattern that calls for too much attention.
The band tunes out the sunshine on “Action” which heads into a gritty country rock direction, allowing Farrar’s slightly distorted vocals, echoed guitar riffs, and playful organ to bring credibility back to Son Volt’s latest endeavor. While Farrar’s voice is definitely the alpha of the pack, skillfully played organ sounds remain an integral part of this effort, as is heard on “Circadian Rhythm,” which seems to be the kind of track Rick Danko and Garth Hudson would be playing if the Band were still around today.
Farrar preaches 21st century worries on “Beacon Soul,” which is merely a standard pop/rock song, but lyrics such as: “Who the hell is Dow Jones anyways/Society’s bones on a cafeteria tray,” keeps within the political questioning that Son Volt keeps in focus throughout The Search.
One of the best tracks on this album is also the shortest. “Satellite” is a good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll song, the type you might hear at a bar and start bobbing your head to instead of paying attention to the conversation at hand. “Methamphetamine” highlights the ability of this band to paint a picture through both the lyrics and music it provides. While Farrar rambles on about small town life and small town pleasures, a pedal steel guitar riff winds through the music as a drifter, strung out, confused and looking to make a buck to pay for his fix.
The album ends with “Phosphate Skin,” an acoustic cut that Farrar pours his heart into, promising that “It can only get better from here/Don’t have any fear.” This makes for what is a wonderful ending to a pretty good album. Not one that will be tearing up the pop charts, or something to play for your friends at a party. No, this album is for the cross-country travelers, the dive bar regulars, neckerchief wearers and those who don’t know how to eat with chopsticks. This is simple music for simple folks, the Jack Kerouac’s and Tom Wait’s of the world. This album won’t change your life, but it’s good listening.
Son Volt will be appearing at the El Rey Theater on April 3rd.