Son Volt also rises
In the recently released documentary on his rise to fame, Bob Dylan talked about his Woody Guthrie stage. The young singer-songwriter, having just left Minneapolis behind forever, traveled to New York where the old singer was slowly dying of Huntington’s chorea. Now, 40-some years later, Dylan said you could learn how to live by listening to Guthrie’s songs. As a young man, Dylan wanted to write songs like that; songs that eloquently defined certain pieces of America and a certain time in our history. And so he did.
Jay Farrar seems to have those same aspirations. The singer-songwriter-guitarist and his recently reformed band, Son Volt, have a new album out called “Okemah and the Melody of Riot” (Okemah is Guthrie’s Okie hometown). Farrar and his old alt.country band full of new bandmates kick off the album with “Bandages and Scars,” an electric guitar-chime pondering of a chaotic world. “Words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head,” sings Farrar in a voice sounding almost weary enough to belong to Michael Stipe.
Later, in “Jet Pilot,” Farrar rips into President Bush.
“His daddy has a job in Washington/wants to raise a Harvard son
“Junior liked to let his hair down/only trouble is word gets around.”
It doesn’t exactly have Guthrie’s straightforward, hillbilly honesty and poetry and it doesn’t exactly have Dylan’s sharp, bitter wit, but it is lifted up by the angry buzz of Farrar’s guitar and quiet passages that accentuate the negative lyrical assessment of Bush.
Farrar is joined in the new Son Volt by Brad Rice (guitar), Andrew Duplantis (bass) and Dave Bryson (drums). It’s something of a curious move by Farrar. He apparently missed recording and touring under the name Son Volt, while missing a bit less the guys — drummer Mike Heidorn (who, with Farrar, was part of Uncle Tupelo), and Jim Boquist (bass) and Dave Boquist (guitar, fiddle, banjo) — who formed the band with him after Uncle Tupelo broke up back in 1993.
Band politics aside, “Okemah and the Melody of Riot” is a welcome return of the Son Volt moniker, with a recharged Farrar incensed with the state of the state and other matters.
He wrote the material last year, which explains why the lyrics have sharper edges than usual. The music is also more muscular; guitar riffs are, at times, closer to Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath than a “No Depression” reinvention of Hank Williams.
“A lot of songs were written in about a six-month period that coincided with the run-up to the election,” Farrar told the Santa Cruz Sentinel earlier this year. “And we were recording it in the fall, just a couple of weeks before the election. The World Series was going on, too, I think. Just having that climate in this country at that time, I had to acknowledge some of what was going on at the time.”
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