2007 Artist Lineup

Son Volt

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America’s historical tragedies and triumphs exert a powerful influence on its greatest songwriters. There is little surprise in that fact: God and the Devil battle it out from sea to shining sea on nearly every page of American history. But in the hands of musicians, tales from this most uncivil war are forged into potent and poetic myths: A hellhound on a blues singer’s trail. Injustices mourned by a man who wears black. Hattie Carroll and the Hurricane. The despair of dust bowls and a lack of do-re-mi. Throughout his career, Jay Farrar has embraced those myths – and shaped new ones. As a founder of alternative country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, as a solo artist, and as the leader of Son Volt, his work often seeks out the ghosts of America’s discordant or forgotten past, converses at length with them, and writes songs that stake a claim to a better future. That American legacy of sin and salvation stands at the center of Son Volt’s new record, Okemah (pronounced OH-KEE-MAH) and the Melody of Riot (Transmit Sound/Sony BMG). As the twelve new songs on Okemah swing from commotion to contemplation, they remain anchored in Farrar’s passionate questioning of history to find words to articulate present calamities. His songs snatch eternal verities from the flames of terrorism and the shadows of political despair – and believe that hope will trump fears. In keeping with that lyrical interrogation of past and present, the music on Okemah and the Melody of Riot finds Farrar revisiting the sounds of his previous work with increased fluency and assurance. Listeners who admired the ferocious guitar attack of Uncle Tupelo songs such as “Chickamauga” (from Anodyne) or Son Volt’s “Straightface” (Wide swing Tremolo) will revel in Okemah’s turn back toward rock on tunes like “Jet Pilot” or “Who.” Those who found consolation or inspiration in Farrar compositions such as melodic lilt of “Still Be Around” (from Uncle Tupelo’s second record, Still Feel Gone) or the warm lyricism of “Windfall” (the first song on Son Volt’s debut, Trace) will find those qualities in Okemah tracks like “6 String Belief” or “World Waits for You.” Indeed, coming hard on the heels of a Son Volt compilation culled from the band’s first three records (A Retrospective 1995-2000 on Rhino Records), the time is right for a new record from a distinguished band. In many ways, Okemah and the Melody of Riot is a return to familiar haunts for Farrar after two distinguished and diversified solo records – Sebastopol and Terroir Blues – and an EP and live record (Thirdshiftgrottoslack and Stone Steel and Bright Lights) that drew from those sessions and solo records. On Sebastopol and Terroir Blues, Farrar tinkered with song structures and off-beat tunings, and experimented with instruments and tape loops. In part, he says, the reformation of Son Volt was a chance to change up. “After having done two primarily acoustic-oriented solo records and a lot of acoustic touring for several years,” says Farrar, “I was ready to get back to playing electric. I wanted the solo records to be open-ended, open to trying out different sounds, different approaches. With this Son Volt record, I wanted to get back to the fundamentals.” Farrar picked up the Son Volt thread again with three new musicians Brad Rice (guitar), Andrew Duplantis (bass) and Dave Bryson (drums) – along with assists from Eric Heywood (pedal steel), John Horton (slide guitar), and Mark Spencer (slide guitar, slide dulcimer, organ and backing vocals.) In late 2004, when the previous incarnation of the band chose not to regroup again after recording the song “Sometimes” for the Alejandro Escovedo benefit/tribute Por Vida, a new team coalesced rather quickly round the Son Volt banner. Farrar observes that drummer Dave Bryson, formerly with DC alt-country rockers Canyon, was a holdover from Farrar’s 2003 tour with that band that resulted in Stone, Steel and Bright Lights, and points to an earlier connection with bassist Andrew DuPlantis, who opened some shows for Son Volt in 1997. “We did a version of the Beatles ‘Rain’ once or twice on those dates,” recalls Farrar. “So we had some previous playing time.” After adding guitarist Brad Rice (who has played with a diverse group of artists, including The Backsliders, Ryan Adams and Tift Merritt), the band settled into the Okemah sessions in St. Louis, Missouri – which were simultaneously webcast on Jay Farrar’s website (www.jayfarrar.net) as the record was made. What hardcore Son Volt fans saw on the web – and will hear when they slide Okemah and the Melody of Riot into rotation – is a successful restoration of the warmth and spontaneity of the Son Volt’s first three records. On Okemah and the Melody of Riot, says Farrar, he aimed to create “a live feel, just trying to capture the moment when all the players are firing on all cylinders and the songs come together. So many records now are made with an artist, an engineer and a computer. I wanted this record to be the antithesis of that.” Farrar asked a lot from his new recruits to the group – particularly in their flexibility and adaptability in a live setting. Okemah and the Melody of Riot veers from the flat-out ringing rock of “Afterglow 61″ to the luscious layers of organ and harmony on the shuffling “Gramophone” to the somber smoky reflections of “Ipecac.” He lays much of the results in getting it right to the band that he assembled. “They all brought a considerable amount of musical experience with them,” says Farrar. “We did a lot of live tracking, which can be difficult, but their familiarity with the process and confidence in their abilities made it happen.”

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