Son Volt’s seventh and latest album HONKY TONK is their most overtly countryish. No Neil Young type feedback or Byrds cum rockabilly twang here. Every song is pulled along by out front pedal steel guitar and fiddles.
Son Volt has long dabbled in this type of music with a song here, a song there, and a general overall feel. However, this is the first time they have embraced country for a complete record.
When I first listened to this record, I kept checking the songwriting credits to see if these were country standards so precise is Son Volt songwriter/leader Jay Farrar’s understanding of country songwriting.
My one complaint about this record is while Farrar has a great eye for detail and a good grasp of melody, what made many of the classic country stars great, people like George Jones and Merle Haggard, was their darkness. Farrar knows his subjects and he knows his music – instrumentation and style but his music would be better served with a slight edge. The best country music always has an edge.
In the past Son Volt/Jay Farrar has shown flashes of brilliance. All of their past records have moments of genius such as Metamphetamine from THE SEARCH or Loose String from TRACE or When the Wheels Don’t Move from AMERICAN CENTRAL DUST. The songs on HONKY TONK flow into each other like a Sunday afternoon jam session.
I always thought Jay Farrar sounded a bit constrained in his old band Uncle Tupelo. I did not like his bandmate Jeff Tweedy’s songs as much (and have never liked Wilco. Despite their ambitions, their whiny alternative “experiments" are more about their reach not exceeding their grasp).
In Son Volt, Jay Farrar’s been free to chase America in all its different musical incarnations. I think at least on a few occasions(including on HONKY TONK), he’s caught it.