Son Volt - Notes of Blue

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2017-02-17

I will wait for you in the green green spaces / wearing our post-industrial faces ……  building our mounds out of control/ Full of our finest throw away things.

That song ‘Cahokian’ about industrial expansion, environmental destruction and generational regret in middle America was from Farrar’s solo album, Terroir Blues in 2003, and reminded me a lot of the bitter poignancy and hopelessness of the human subjects in ‘Sauget Wind’ an Uncle Tupelo single from Farrar’s first band. Real people beholden to big industry.

Jay Farrar to me has always had more impact as a modern American folk singer singing about common issues for everyday people. I was less convinced of the potency of Son Volt’s early college rock forays like ‘Straightface’ and ‘Drown’ which struck me as a little too middle of the road. There have of course been a few more albums over time, and personally I’ve been heartened by some of the material, such as  ‘Methamphetamine’ and ‘Highway & Cigarettes’ from underrated album The Search which again showcase Farrar’s ability to write great folk songs about weighty concerns.

I guess Farrar’s bilateral influences of folk/roots and rock will continue to polarise, but on Notes of Blue we find Farrar in folk/roots mode,  paying homage to the blues of the Delta, swapping the big environmental issues for down-home concerns. It’s the type of music where I think Jay Farrar excels, to labour a point. 

A little bit of melancholy pedal steel back-boning a simple acoustic song ‘Promise the World’ starts us off, lulling and reassuring, a smidgen of fiddle confirming the revisionist intentions. 

‘Back Against The Wall’ is more like classic Son Volt but with the rock component judiciously injected at small intervals and giving the song a widescreen feel. ‘Cherokee Street Girl’ a bit of stomp box blues with Farrar’s characteristic voice engaged as always in his long vocal phrasing. ‘Sinking Down’ finds Farrar kicking back in Buddy Guy/Junior Wells style, hardly eschewing his cynicism but nonetheless having more fun. 

The main intent here seems a bit of back porch therapy, which I can report has done Farrar the world of good.

 

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