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By Jez | Music | July 22, 2009 |

By Jez | Music | July 22, 2009 |

sonvoltcover.jpgIt’s been a few years since I’ve heard anything new by Son Volt or Jay Farrar. I picked up Jay Farrar’s foray into techno-country, Sebastopol, and probably gave it 3 or 4 listens until I decided it was time to move away from him. I’m one of the few people that actually likes the alternative-country genre, and think it’s truer to country music than what is actually coming out of Nashville today.

When I saw that Son Volt had released American Central Dust, there was just something about seeing the cover that made me think that this was going to be a good one, and I was right. It just seems like its time for a bunch of good songs rooted in folk and country.

Unlike The Search, where it seemed like Son Volt was trying to either find a niche, or meld various styles together, this release has a nice flow, and doesn’t get too fancy with effects, horns, ethereal sounding keyboards or dynamics.

The two closest songs that reflect this current style on the album, “Down to the Wire” and “When the Wheels Don’t Move” have that cold, stiff rhythm, but don’t push themselves outside the lines. Both songs also use the distorted tremolo guitar, similar to “Damn Shame,” which was probably the only song I liked off of Sebastopol (Hey everybody, get your neon sticks out and your Vicks dust masks, Jay wrote a song that the techno people can dance to!).

The albums starts out with “Dynamite,” a very good choice for an opening tune, upbeat with minimal electric guitar and accordion, smooth edged mellowness, basically the alt country sound those of us might have missed from Farrar.

On the third song, “Roll On” I start to notice a big difference in this album versus recent Son Volt albums; the sound production on this album is just fantastic. Everything is really crisp, and the separation of the instruments is laid out so that nothing is buried in the mix. On this tune, the instrumentation is perfect, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, a nice electric guitar that may or may not be a pedal steel, and a little Fender Rhodes piano sprinkled throughout. The song is ideal for Sunday mornings, hungover or not, or a nice highway drive on an overcast morning,

I wasn’t expecting “Cocaine and Ashes” to sound like it did, since I saw a video where there is acoustic and electric guitar only. The album version has layers of fiddle and piano and doesn’t appear to even have a guitar, which is pretty cool, considering I’ve never seen Farrar without a guitar.

A lot of the songs, including “Dust of Dayligh,t, continue the use of folk and country instruments, which overall, give the songs on this album a timeless feel. It could have easily been made in 1963 as it could in 2009.

“No Turning Back” is reminiscent of earlier Son Volt pop songs such as “Medicine Hat” or “Back into Your World,” with a nice twist of the use of what appears to be a Hammond organ, which gives it kind of a Faces feel.

The overall theme running through these songs is sort of a dreamy, lazy feeling. The band is not trying to rock anyone’s socks off. In some ways, it reminds me of the mellow songs of Joe Henry’s Kindness of the World, with the amount of piano and keyboards in here. When I think of the music I listened to in the 80s, I was always so against keyboards (but really, keyboards don’t belong in metal), but I find that I like all kinds of keyboards these days, and the album uses at least 3 varieties in different songs.

Jay gives us a history lesson in “Sultana”, a tune about the boat of the same name and the disaster that befell it. I enjoy it when Farrar writes about these things, like Times Beach on Trace’s “Second Hand News”. He is probably the Mississippi River’s best songwriter-historian, as he discusses the river and the towns surrounding it in many of his songs.

“Jukebox of Steel” ends the album and is the most upbeat song on here, but not so much that it would make you feel like it didn’t belong.

Overall, I don’t believe there’s a song I dislike on this album. It’s a mellow, soothing effort that doesn’t bash you over the head and also a welcome return for Son Volt into straightforward, country-folk music. The iTunes download of the album includes an all-acoustic version of “Dust of Daylight” which cracks me up, because the original version is pretty much all acoustic except for the electric pedal steel.

Jez is not the one from Kajagoogoo, but you can move a little closer. He lives near the south shore of Lake Michigan and enjoys good beer alongside good music. You can check him out over at Fresh Beer Every Friday.

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TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.