After Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar has recorded as a solo artist, as part of Gob Iron, and most notably as Son Volt. The Search is his most recent album and the fifth with the moniker of Son Volt. On this album, the band adds organ, electric piano, string effects, backwards loops, a horn section, and electric bouzouki to its familiar sound. By doing so, they have created their best album to date.
The Picture (mp3) |
Circadian Rhythm | The Search
The rehearsal was over. Kevin had about an hour to burn before the dinner would begin. It would be enough time to smoke a few cigarettes. Ryan, his younger brother, was marrying a beautiful woman. Kevin, two years older than the groom, was still single. In fact, he didn’t bring a date to the wedding.
As he burned through his cigarettes, he kept thinking, “Feels like driving around in a slow hearse.” That was the opening line to the new Son Volt album. With mellow piano line, twirling guitar part and muted drums, “Slow Hearse” captured his emotions.
Kevin didn’t just grow up in Ryan’s shadow. The younger Spinter brother eclipsed him. It was as though Kevin vanished in the shade of his younger brother. They were two years apart, but Ryan was more popular. Ryan was the younger of the two brothers, but not the smaller of the two. At the altar, he would stand over six feet tall. In high school he was a running back in the fall and the power hitting first basemen in the spring. He was also the third runner up to valedictorian at graduation. Now he was quickly moving up the corporate ladder at Dell and marrying his college girlfriend, the stunningly gorgeous Lisa.
Kevin drove to the wedding from Cleveland. He listened to The Search during the drive. There were a lot of road songs on the album. “Action” had one of Jay Farrar’s best and most distinct melodies tossed around with electric guitars. The lyrics “Riding waves of sound/ Three hundred miles from metropolitan” coasted through his mind as the wind blew through his hair. “Straight from here two lanes of freedom unconquered souls deliver each day/ Gasoline junkies feral diesel fiends looking for action on the mercy-wide road.” These songs were his soundtrack from the drive on I-90.
“Highways and Cigarettes” shared a melody with Rhett Miller’s Rachel Yamagata assisted duet on The Believer, “Fireflies.” Farrar sings with Shannon McNally and the song takes on a life of its own, full of Dust Bowl style vocals, electric pianos, and steel pedal guitars. They name check New Orleans and Las Cruces on their trip. But it’s the lines “Still out there the coffee stains and putting miles on shoes/ Can’t escape the smell of cigarettes still living out these American late night blues” that drew Kevin in to its poetic romanticism.
When the sky got dark, he would turn to the song “Methamphetamine.” It was a dense acoustic guitar driven tune with the drone of inverted chords. The organ and slide guitar tracks layered underneath the vocals gave the song a magnificent haunting quality. The chorus was made for the placid part of road trips. “Would you take me back North Carolina/ Would you take me back Arkansas/ Peaceful days still there remember/ Methamphetamine was the final straw.”
Kevin was putting the finishing touches on a feature article about a vendor who’d been selling hot dogs at Indian’s games for over forty years when he got the call from his brother. Surprise, surprise. The perfect brother was going to have the perfect wife and probably the perfect wedding. Maybe that was what made him end the feature with the glum comment, “As a boy, Lupansky watched Lou Boudreau lead Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Joe Gordon, and Ken Kelter to the team’s last World Series crown. Since then, he has sold hot dogs while Joe Charboneau, Andre Thornton, and Joey Belle lost games.” Luckily, his editor rewrote the final line before the article printed in the Plain Dealer.
He thought of the headlines that were currently gracing the paper’s pages as he listened to The Search. Some of the songs are filled with cynicism for modern times but full of inspiration from bands from the past. With these multiple references, Farrar’s unique vocals always separate the songs from their influences. From the opening track's Beatles references to the album's Neil Young and Bob Dylan roots, Farrar’s tone makes the songs stand on their own.
“The Picture” has a Memphis horn section that sounds more like a Beulah melody that a typical saxophone & trumpet line. But again, Farrar’s delivery gives the song’s influences new life as he sings, “Certified minds exacting the toll/ Trying to put a square block in a round hole/ Heart of darkness facing a thousand bloodshot eyes/We’ll know when we get there if we’ll find mercy.”
“Beacon Soul” is full of acoustic guitar, organ, and a salvo of melancholic lyrical references. “Hopeless heroes beat this clap trap haven/ Rats are bigger than the noiseless generation/ Who the hell is Dow Jones anyway/ Society’s bones on a cafeteria tray.” The song continually turns around on the refrain “Turn a blind eye.”
“I’ve been lucky. I grew up with my best friend as my kid brother. When we were little kids, I thought I’d be the one to teach him the lessons of life. But as we’ve grown up, he’s shown me what life has to offer. Now I’m seeing him marry a beautiful woman whom he’s loved for years. And whom he’ll continue to love for a lifetime.
“Ryan, I’ve always considered you to be the luckier of the two of us. I grew up thinking you had everything. You were the star athlete, the intellectual mastermind, and the charismatic persona all rolled into one. And you’re marrying the woman of your dreams.
“But I realized something in the last few days. You’ve given me a gift that no one else could have ever given me. You’ve allowed me to realize my full potential. You have been a pillar supporting me and leading the way to a new level of excellence. I understand now that you’ve inspired me in ways I never knew. Having you as a brother has made me a better person than I would have been if you hadn’t been there through everything. Ryan, you’re the most amazing man I know and I’m proud as hell to be your brother.
“Lisa, I’ve known you since you and Ryan started dating during your sophomore year. I’ve been lucky enough to know you for the past five years. As much as I look up my kid brother, I see you as his equal on every level – spiritually, lovingly, professionally, and personally. Ryan you lucked out again. I hope everyone will raise their glasses with me and toast to the endless years of love, support, and happiness these two deserve and will give each other.”
The Spinter brothers embraced. Their parents looked on with dignity and delight. Kevin has stubbornly held his ground for years. Suddenly, he had both matured and opened his mind. He decided when he got back to Northeast Ohio he was going to finish the novel he’d been writing for the last six years. He’d finally felt he found his voice. He knew the whole story and could write it all out like a crazed Kerouac in one sitting.
On The Search, Jay Farrar created his best album in years, maybe his best album ever. Son Volt, as a band, expanded and diversifying its sound. Organs and electric pianos were added. Different guitar tones and effects were explored. Some songs are straight ahead rock songs; others are mellow alt country tracks. The title track seems to sum up the album. With its guitar line that volleys between treble and bass lines, the chorus exclaims, “Always dreaming it’s the search not the find/ The door is open to change your mind.”
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