In the mid-1990s, Jay Farrar founded a group he called Son Volt after he broke with Jeff Tweedy and left Uncle Tupelo, the band they had formed together. Son Volt, often called an alt-country band, is all about that country-music pain (minus the Nashville twang and glitter), while holding true to the musical values defined by Uncle Tupelo: garage punkers with an overriding affection for roots Americana. Jeff Tweedy would take this concept to the outer limits in his own post-Tupelo group, Wilco. But Farrar’s songwriting has remained far more basic, evocative of a particular time and place. Even in the brightest of Son Volt’s rockers, there’s a sad and bittersweet tone. It is the sound of loneliness, the hum of a burning cold Midwestern factory town, the haggard familiarity of worn Levis and wrinkled money.
No Depression, perhaps Uncle Tupelo’s most noteworthy CD, defined alt-country for an entire generation of musicians eager to hop on that bandwagon; one cannot deny the Farrar-Tweedy influence on that genre. After Uncle Tupelo, it seemed as if every acoustic roots-rocker seemed to want to duplicate that sound. Few were successful.
Now touring in support of their latest CD, American Central Dust, Son Volt and Farrar still work the same simple mojo throughout an album full of rockers and crooners influenced by the folksters and rockers of an earlier generation. American Central Dust stands up as a thorough workout in alt-country roots-rock impressionism. Farrar’s songwriting wraps a listener in layers of harmonies and slippery country music-ish tones that work to create an environment. Like any quality writer, Farrar is a master of making it all seem familiar.
Cowboy Junkies headline.
SON VOLT: Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay, Wednesday, July 15, 7:30 p.m. 619-224-3577. $40.