It’s sometimes hard to reconcile the dire and doleful in Jay Farrar’s voice. The Son Volt boss centers his songs on the emotional attractions of desperation, and the forlorn vibe of his vocals has come to define most his narratives. You can hear it in his early work with Uncle Tupelo, and it’s like a low-hanging fog on “Ten Second News” and “Tear Stained Eye” from 1995’s Trace, an album that’s earned iconic status in the alt-country world. For most of the last quarter century Farrar’s anguish has been applied to romance. But politically he knows when a pot is boiling over, and has no problem citing the dangers of the spill. That’s never been plainer than it is on his band’s ninth album, this year’s Union (Transmit Sound), a disc that applies his signature melancholy to lament the scourge of the Trump era and the punishing atmosphere of its endless atrocities. As it moves from citing the tears in Lady Liberty’s eyes to evidencing the administration’s current crimes against immigrants, Union becomes the most broadside-centric title in the band’s discography. But while it encourages #resistors to “make the fur fly” in response to Team Koch chicanery, Moscow Mitch heartlessness and other fiendish GOP maneuvers, I’d love to see Son Volt launch proactive indictments rather than rhetorical queries such as the plaintive “reality winner, what have you done?.” Farrar knows the impact of anthems. As more shit hits bigger fans in the upcoming months, here’s to the singer clocking a rally cry of inspiring proportions. Perhaps the most inviting part about SV’s Rhythm & Roots Fest Friday night set, is the sparkle of the band’s strings – the guitars of Mark Spencer, Chris Frame and Farrar will bring some extra radiance to their magic hour set on the Rhythm Stage. And of course we shouldn’t forget, Son Volt ain’t lacking for some of that Crazy Horse muscle, and whenever they choose to hit the gas on a rocker, that signature melancholy receives plenty of liftoff. Twang, too. R&RF 2019 might be a wise time for them to dust off that nifty version of “Looking At The World Through a Windshield” that they clocked in their early days.
Pros know that the annual fest’s kickoff afternoon usually boasts a certain je ne sais quoi (that’s pidgin cajun, y’all) . The optimistic vibe of arrival is in the air. Old pals pop through the gate. The whole place is welcoming. So claim that vacay day you deserve and claim your Friday. The Travelin’ McCoury’s will be rollin through the Dead’s “Cumberland Blues,” the Pine Leaf Boys will be turning Ninigret Park into Eunice North, David Greely, Courtney Granger and Steve Riley will be tipping the hat to Dewey Balfa, and Chubby Carrier will be dropping his very strong chank-a-chank science. Has it really be 365 days since last we danced?
August 30-Sept 1 – Charlestown, Rhode Island