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Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Searchin' For A Truer Sound

Much hubub was made when Jay Farrar revived Son Volt two years ago with a whole new lineup and the ensuing album, Okemah And The Melody Of Riot, sounded like a guitar-rocking statement of defiance from Farrar and crew to those who had written him off as having lost his sense of adventure and being too comfortable in the folksinger mode of his last couple solo records. And while Okemah did rock like he hadn’t in some years and was a solid offering, it was also a bit one-dimensional in sound and production – no doubt a consequence of the band having come together just before heading into the studio and thus missing out on the chemistry that can only be earned through time and touring.

But two years on with the release of The Search today, it seems that’s no longer an issue. Note that my impressions are based on just a single listen to the album stream below but also a more than passing familiarity with Farrar’s whole career. It sounds like they’ve reined in the rock a bit and the addition of Derry deBorja on keyboards is a solid one, giving the proceedings a more expansive and textured sound that the songs wear very well and overall, it’s a much more dynamic record. Attempting further discourse without spending a lot more time with the album would be pointless, so I’ll simply say that it sounds pretty good to me.

St Louis Today and CTNow.com talk to Farrar about the new record and NPR has a live show from Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago available to stream. The band kicks off a North American tour at the end of this month that includes an April 12 stop at the Mod Club in Toronto with solo Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell as support. They’re also one of two bands confirmed for Lollapalooza this August, along with Pearl Jam. C’mon, Son Volt AND Pearl Jam? Time to buy those plane tickets to Chicago.

Stream: Son Volt / The Search
MySpace: Son Volt

And speaking of Mr Isbell, I can’t find any recent news on what’s happening with his long-completed solo record, though the fact that he’s touring on his own could be a good sign on that front. Interestingly, his primary MySpace seems like a typical personal page, but this bare-bones one has three songs streaming on it, and nothing else.

And even though Uncle Tupelo called it quits fourteen years ago, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy’s careers continue to exhibit interesting bits of synchronicity – as Son Volt release their new album, Wilco unveiled their new album Sky Blue Sky via an overnight stream on Saturday night. I gave it a couple listens (though not my undivided attention) and it sounds very laid back and pretty. Can’t wait for May 15, but until then, the band has made one of the tracks available to download – the song they debuted in Toronto last July. It was called “There’s A Light” back then, and you can compare it with the final version below.

MP3: Wilco – “What Light” (.zip)
MP3: Wilco – “There’s A Light” (live in Toronto 2006-07-07)

The National have announced a full North American tour in support of Boxer, out May 22. As far as Toronto goes, they’ll be at the Opera House on June 5. I’m tired of complaining about the venue so I’m just going to be really really excited about the show instead.

CokeMachineGlow has an interview with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff wherein they dig up some of his old music journalism for AudioGalaxy and ask him about it. It’s fun watching Sheff’s answers get briefer and more terse as it goes on.

My Old Kentucky Blog has got some new Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s songs that you can expect to hear on their new album, out later this year, or at SxSW next week – perhaps at Hot Freaks where they’ll be playing Club DeVille at 4:30 on Saturday.

Bradley’s Almanac has the audio from last week’s Sparklehorse show in Boston available to download.

By : Frank Yang at 8:24 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Thierry says:

    What, no 24 update?

  2. jason says:

    Granted, I’ve only had one listen, too, but it just sounds like Jay is mining the same field for all his lyrics yet again. There are some interesting sounds on the new album, but I just feel that he’s lost it. I haven’t enjoyed anything from Son Volt since Trace.

  3. Mike says:

    The Search is really outstanding. It’s not very easy to hear at first, but after a couple listens there’s alot of great stuff. It’s definitely a more exciting and interesting piece than the new Wilco.

  4. jason says:

    After cursory listens to each, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Farrar’s been a one-trick pony for the last few years, and this new album does nothing to change my mind. I wish it would. Trace is one of my all-time favorites and Windfall, in my opinion is one of the best examples of songwriting in the last 20 years.

    That might be the problem, though. Knowing the potential for greatness is there.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to being a huge Wilco fan, but I’ve never understood why liking Son Volt and liking Wilco are considered by some to be mutually exclusive. To each his own, I guess.

  5. Frank says:

    my comments on Son Volt are relative to the Jay Farrar universe. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s expecting anything revelatory from him at this point – it’ll always be variations on the same theme. But some variations suit him better than others and I think The Search is one of them, moreso than Okemah.

    and I like both Wilco and son Volt, though obviously Wilco more. they’re now doing such different things that comparing one against the other is pointless.

  6. Jeff says:

    Trace is amazing back to front and everything since has been mediocre @ best. Wilco has been evolving ever since AM.

    On a side note, I heard UT broke up cos Jeff made a pass @ Jay’s wife….

  7. Sasha says:

    For what it’s worth, Jay seems to find inspiration in comfort, and Tweedy seems to find it in less familiar surroundings. To each there own I guess, but in considering their career arcs, it’s getting harder to argue that Jay is a better songwriter than Tweedy. People may not like where Wilco has gone the last 7 years, but there’s no denying the level of craftsman ship and bravery in Wilco’s records. SV (and Farrar) churn out the same old, and simply adding horns and pianos to the same old structure isn’t really shaking the boat, so to speak. Frankly, the best Farrar stuff I’ve heard since the early incarnation of SV are his versions of other people’s songs…

    Granted, I too am a bigger Wilco fan than Farrar fan, but like them both and don’t see it as an either or proposition. Frankly, Jay does less to get riled up about and that’s why I prefer Wilco. it easily could have gone the other way.

  8. Mike says:

    It’s just really interesting how much better the songs are on The Search compared to Sky Blue Sky. There also seems to be an excitement and fire in The Search that just doesn’t exist in Sky Blue Sky ( I think that’s something apparent in Wilco records since YHF).

    Songs like Methamphetamine and Highways and Cigarettes have no peer on Sky Blue Sky. It’s a shame that Wilco seem to have lost any kind of fire, turning more into a classy sort of adult easy listening band. You can’t say the same for The Search. And I thought I would never be saying this a couple years back. Strange how time can change things.

  9. Mike says:

    I should add that I’m a big fan of both bands. It just seems like Tweedy is stuck in "Theologians adult lite rock" While Jay still has some fire left.

  10. Sasha says:

    we’ll have to agree to disagree Mike…to me, Jay has been burning the same flame for so long that it’s hard to get worked up about it. To my ears, Wilco records spew white hot heat on my speakers, it’s just with a different audio sensibility. The fire is intertwined with a different sonic template. Jay digs the distortion and hard strumming acoustic, whereas Wilco packs their fury into dense layers of sound that even in its softest moments, it feels like it could melt a hole in the ground. Nevermind the fact that with Nels, they now have a guitarist that can simply destroy and re-build everything he touches…their live shows are sick since Nels came on board.

    But like I said, I like ’em both, just lean towards Wilco. Sadly, the only time I’ve seen SV was at Opera House last year, so admittedly, I missed them in their peak. The show was good, but the best stuff really was when he played Medicine Hat and Chickamauga. Which says to me his song writing has been running out of gas lately. Wilco shows still make my jaw drop by the end at what I’ve just heard. Furthest thing from adult-lite I could ever imagine.

    But to each their own…enjoy the new album!