CD Review of The Search by Son Volt

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The Search
starstarstarstarno star Label: Red Ink Records
Released: 2007
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There’s no arguing how far Jay Farrar has come since his days of sharing an apartment with Jeff Tweedy and fronting the now-ancient Uncle Tupelo. Seems like another lifetime ago. With each passing year, and each new Son Volt or Wilco album notched, the pipe dream of a Tupelo reunion becomes more and more just that. Thank God we in the eternal Uncle Tupelo backers club don’t dwell on such a fleeting possibility. I mean, it’s not like we actually sit around and listen to these Son Volt records trying to envision Tweedy singing a harmony vocal. Hah, that would be insane.

Truth is, it’s not just that Farrar and Tweedy keep releasing their respective albums at an alarmingly regular pace. It’s that the albums are, by and large, so damn good. Take this new Son Volt effort, The Search. Only 18 months removed from the great Okemah and the Melody of Riot, Farrar rounds up essentially the same band to roll through 14 new adventures, practically donning a different genre cap for each. The album opens with the exact same piano line that the Beatles used on “Golden Slumbers.” I swear I thought Paul McCartney was going to mumble, “Once there was a way to get back home.” But alas, it’s just a quick little two-and-a-half-minute opener called “Slow Hearse,” whose ultimate purpose is to set up the crashing full band congregation that follows on “The Picture.”

Much more in the vein of earlier Son Volt releases, “The Picture” joins the title track and “Automatic Society” as the ringing guitar entries, while “Underground Dream” and “L Train” utilize the acoustic tools and spotlight Farrar’s tale-telling of the everyman’s journey and struggle. He talks lyrics the way Johnny Cash used to, though I submit Farrar’s sense of tone is stronger, always favoring melody over monotony. The stuff that finds Son Volt, the band, outside of their predictable comfort zone sets The Search apart from much of their back catalog. A horn section brought in for “The Picture” is sheer E. Street Band brilliance, and a distorted guitar part within the dark and mystical “Circadian Rhythm” reeks of a lost Crazy Horse session.

Whether sustaining this band or going it alone with the solo recordings – and it should be noted that even the diehard fans struggle to tell the difference – Jay Farrar has shown yet again his determination to carry on long, long after a celebrated band like Uncle Tupelo dissolved. In fact, it’s almost as if he’s motivated by the opportunity to forge his own legacy as one of the preeminent singer/songwriters of this generation. “We’ll know when we get there, we’ll find mercy,” he pontificates on “The Picture.” You’re there, Jay. You’re there.

~Red Rocker