Artists like Jay Farrar might often find themselves in a sticky situation. If they consistently put out music of the same scope and style, they’re either lauded for their efforts or accused of being unimaginative. Or, if they’re apt to shift and shape their sounds from disc to disc, those pointing their fingers attack the artist for lacking focus.
I’ll tip my hat to Jay Farrar for sticking to his artistic convictions. His latest effort with Son Volt [2.0], American Central Dust, is a collection of more protest songs, fighting the good fight for the working man and the plight of many Americans. As is standard for Farrar, the arrangements are sparse: warm acoustic guitars, weepy fiddles and lap steel, plodding drum beats.
Dust expands upon the new sounds explored on Son Volt’s 2007 disc The Search, with several tunes bathed in organ fills and pleasing vocal harmonies. Farrar is certainly opening up to new sounds – which is good, because the songs themselves are still not up to par of Son Volt’s widely-accepted best [and first] album, Trace.
It’s quite a challenge to pick out memorable melodies through Farrar’s limited vocal range. Although his voice is in fine shape, what it lacks is expression. The passion, fury, courage and earnestness in his songs just aren’t as convincing when he doesn’t sound pissed off.
*I tried to write this review without mentioning Wilco or Jeff Tweedy at all. Fans of Farrar’s old sparring partner [myself included] know the history of the two songwriters well, from the love affair to the bitter divorce, and the solid four-album legacy of Uncle Tupelo they left behind.
Much like Tweedy/Wilco, Farrar/Son Volt might have raised the bar a bit too high for themselves earlier in their career. As previously mentioned, Son Volt’s 1995 debut Trace still stands as their finest moment. Wilco is another story altogether, although the general consensus seems to be that their 2002 release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the pinnacle of their work.
Both artists have continued to write solid songs and explore the corners of their musical minds, but it seems that the rest of the world has already made their mind up and probably agree on one viewpoint: we still love you and love your songs, but it will never be as good as ___________.
What’s an artist to do?
Listen to American Central Dust here.