Do you ever wonder why you like the music you, uh, like? When it comes to Jay Farrar and Son Volt, I think the roots of my musical taste buds go back to the early 70’s when I caught Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the late, great Boston Garden… It was one of my first concerts and it was during the time of CSNY’s live “Four Way Street.” The record and the show were filled with social commentary in the music and the banter. Songs like “Chicago/We Can Change the World,” “Southern Man,” “Ohio,” and “Find the Cost of Freedom” were written because the authors believed they could change the world for the better, or maybe they were just pissed off. After all, Richard Nixon lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “Four Way Street” has gorgeous harmonies, thoughtful song craft and blazing guitar work by Stephen Stills and Neil Young. I also longed to find a “Cowgirl in the Sand.”
Jump ahead about 20 years and Son Volt released “Trace” in 1995. It was his first record since the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, and it floored me. Recently pal Jeff said he was “in a different place” back then, and that Son Volt’s new record wasn’t hitting him the same way “Trace” or the Tupelo stuff did. Today I wrote him a one line email: “Keep listening. It’s getting great.”
I do understand what Jeff means when he speaks of being in “a different place.” At this time ten years ago I was hurtling through the cold emptiness of space, hoping it would miraculously become warm and support life. I was tethered only by the life in the fingertips of my children and a soundtrack of new music including Son Volt.
It’s early yet, but I think “Okemah And The Melody Of Riot” might be the best Son Volt record to date. I love the rocking guitars of “Jet Pilot” and “6 String Belief ,” but whether he’s singing a ballad like “World Waits for You” or experimenting with a psychedelic folk on “Medication,” Jay Farrar delivers.
As the record cover illustrates, Jay’s a little pissed off. The art resembles the grenade gripping hand on Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Current events are covered on “Bandages & Scars,” “Endless War,” oh, and “Jet Pilot” is all about “Dubya.”
Finally, there are the words. As a songwriter, Jay Farrar never lets me down:
Turning point calm awaits you.”
– from “Chaos Streams”
Don’t even get me started on the live shows.