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Son Volt – Jay Farrar’s Devastating Songwriting Provides Familiarity, Comfort

Posted by August 29th, 2005 No Comments »

This album cover is not as frightening as a tomato with teeth.Son Volt
Okemah and the Melody of Riot
By S. Takeuchi

Jay Farrar is telling us something. He is not offering benedictions or blessings, he is not reliving the past, he has a message to get out and if we are listening, he is spreading it. Is it a call to action? A plea for change? Maybe it’s just a mouthful of dirt that needs to be spit out. A man can only take so much and maybe, just maybe, this is Farrar’s breaking point.

What is Son Volt? In its current incarnation it is a group of talented musicians supporting a phenomenal songwriter. This effort, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, is a blend of Farrar’s solo work and previous vision of Son Volt. From a sound perspective it has very little in common with Trace or Straightaways and in totality has less cohesiveness than Wide Swing Tremolo.

Musically it is less experimental than his solo releases but it does contain a variety of tempo and dynamic changes. The bottom line is that this is a rock record that does not feel like a band album. Farrar’s vocals sit deep within the mix and he is often singing in a higher register which calls attention to his voice, almost as if picking out a cry for help in a crowd. Purposefully or not it is compelling to have to strain to pick out the lyrics he is singing. It gives weight and urgency to the songs, as if Farrar is racing and escalating his voice to get out what needs to be said before he is drowned out.


This album cover is not as frightening as a tomato with teeth.Son Volt
Okemah and the Melody of Riot
By S. Takeuchi

Jay Farrar is telling us something. He is not offering benedictions or blessings, he is not reliving the past, he has a message to get out and if we are listening, he is spreading it. Is it a call to action? A plea for change? Maybe it’s just a mouthful of dirt that needs to be spit out. A man can only take so much and maybe, just maybe, this is Farrar’s breaking point.

What is Son Volt? In its current incarnation it is a group of talented musicians supporting a phenomenal songwriter. This effort, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, is a blend of Farrar’s solo work and previous vision of Son Volt. From a sound perspective it has very little in common with Trace or Straightaways and in totality has less cohesiveness than Wide Swing Tremolo.

Musically it is less experimental than his solo releases but it does contain a variety of tempo and dynamic changes. The bottom line is that this is a rock record that does not feel like a band album. Farrar’s vocals sit deep within the mix and he is often singing in a higher register which calls attention to his voice, almost as if picking out a cry for help in a crowd. Purposefully or not it is compelling to have to strain to pick out the lyrics he is singing. It gives weight and urgency to the songs, as if Farrar is racing and escalating his voice to get out what needs to be said before he is drowned out.

There is even a point where Farrar appears to ‘force’ a line, which, while all too common in other songwriters these days, is not something Farrar has done before. On “Afterglow 61” he repeats this line again and again and despite the extra syllable and a half bridges the gap between his intent and delivery. That is the crux of this album, all these songs are what Farrar wants to say, musically, dynamically and lyrically, but housed in his conception of what a rock and roll band sounds like.

Seeing Son Volt play these songs live accentuates the differences between Farrar’s creative endeavors. The new songs have a great vibe and controlled chaos that built through the set. There were more jams, drones and off-beat drum grooves as compared to the legacy Son Volt songs. While Farrar’s voice is the link between the two bands, the old songs sound like, if not cover songs, than the best rockaroke session you have ever heard. A justifiable reason for reforming Son Volt would be to revisit the vast back catalog of songs that Son Volt has. While this version of the band does not have the depth of instrumentation that the previous had, it is still great to hear songs such as “Loose String”, “Tear Stained Eye”, “Drown”, “Caryatid Easy” and “Windfall” with a full band.

Fans of Son Volt will not be disappointed with the new group, but at the end of the day these are Jay Farrar songs, and whether new or old, acoustic or electric, they are familiar, comforting and a reminder of how devastating good songwriting can be. – (8/10)


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