Wide SWing Tremolo (Warner Bros, 1998) alleviates the sense of dejavu
with stabs at
southern boogie (Straightface, Right On Through and Flow),
and with a few surreal instrumental tracks (Jodel and Chanty)
that are probably worth more than the band's fans realize. Farrar is still
himself in the mid-tempo Medicine Hat and shines in the
mournful and almost mystical
Streets That Time Walks and Carry You Down, but he is clever
enough to know that there are only so many ways one can repeat the same story
until it is perceived as the blabbering of an old man, no matter how erudite
Unfortunately, Farrar's first solo,
Sebastopol (Artemis, 2001),
continues in the derivative style of
Son Volt's Wide Swing Tremolo. Other than the
apocalyptic Feel Free and the catchy Vitamins, the album
plods along with mildly entertaining ballads like Outside The Door,
Barstow, Voodoo Candle, that add little to the canon while
retelling stories that have been heard countless times before.
Damaged Son, Make It Alright, Drain are too thin, no
matter how pretty.
And, finally, Different Eyes and Clear Day Thunder try too hard
to achieve a level of drama that is just not within Farrar's reach.
Strings, synthesizer and saxophone add a sensual texture to the project, but
the feeling that Farrar has, quite simply, precious little to say.
The five-song EP ThirdShiftGrottoSlack (Artemis, 2002) sounds like
left-overs, although Farrar's music is ever catchy and warm.
Farrar's second album, Terrior Blues (Act, 2003), is even more confused
and unfocused. Maybe the idea was to produce an album similar to the Byrds'
middle phase, when surreal instrumental sounds (the several Space Junk
pieces) alternated with catchy vocal
refrains (No Rolling Back, Hanging on to You)
at a country pace and inhabited by bleak lyrics.
Truth is that Farrar is no Graham Parsons and he is no Roger McGuinn.
He is intriguing when he deconstructs
the blues (Fool King's Crown,) and country music
(Hard Is the Fall), and is certainly more effective in his
chamber folk-jazz ventures (Cahokian, Out on the Road), but
the center of mass is badly tilted towards what he does worst.
Stone, Steel & Bright Lights (Artemis, 2004) is a live album.
A Retrospective (2005) covers the years from 1995 to 2000 (the first
three albums) but contains too much filler.
Son Volt are a significantly different band on
Okemah And The Melody Of Riot (Sony, 2005), as Farrar surrounds himself
with a different set of musicians.
Farrar dominates the proceedings, but the others play the music.
They play in a manner that is neither enthusiastic nor creative. While
technically proficient, they sound
like hired hands who reluctantly perform music that they don't believe in.
Neither does Farrar, who offers half-baked compositions with trite lyrics and,
basically, hardly a reason to turn them into an album.
It is also odd that a Woody Guthrie tribute (as the title and
Bandages and Scars imply) would offer such loud music.
Farrar is a better popsmith (Who, World Waits For You) than
a storyteller, but here he tries to be too much of a storyteller in the old
weds alt-country and traditional folk on
Death Songs for the Living (Transmit Sound, 2006).
The Search (2007), with the addition of Derry Deborja on keyboards,
is a rather uneventful parade of conventional Farrar sermons; and
American Central Dust (2009) had no verve and no purpose, other than
recycling the Son Volt sound.
One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur (2009) was a soundtrack
composed with Death Cab For Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard.
Crosby Stills Nash & Young must have been
the inspiration for the supergroup formed by
Son Volt's Jay Farrar, Centro-matic's Will Johnson, Anders Parker
and My Morning Jacket's Jim James that debuted with
New Multitudes (2012), a concept devoted to reinventing the music for
old Woody Guthrie lyrics.
Best is James' Talking Empty Bed Blues, that recaptures the dejected
pathos of the "dust bowl ballads".
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