Archive for the Jay Farrar Category

Notes for the End of a Vacation

Posted in Ben Gibbard, Jay Farrar, John Hartford, R.E.M., Those Darlins on July 30, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
Unfortunately, my vacation has come to an end. I am, however, happy to be back home in Knoxville after having some fun in Cooperstown, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. last week. We went to the Baseball Hall of Fame, several of the Smithsonian museums, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a brewery, a cider mill, and a handful of wineries. All in all, a fun and relaxing trip.

Oddly, it was the first vacation I’ve taken in quite some time that didn’t have some sort of musical bent to it. My wife and I usually plan our vacations around some concert or another, but we couldn’t seem to find anything this time. Unless you count the piano bar insanity at The Howl at the Moon Saloon in Baltimore. If you’ve never been to one of these fine establishments, just picture two guys playing piano and taking requests from a room full of revelers who are all partaking of their favorite alcoholic beverages. They played everything from Garth Brooks to Weezer to Vanilla Ice in the couple of hours I was there. Needless to say, I sang along with every song and had a pretty darn good time. It’s not the kind of place I usually frequent… but it was certainly fun.

Anyway… some musical notes from things that happened while I was gone…

***The coolest thing I read about this past week was the upcoming collaboration between Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. The collaboration holds a great deal of interest for me since the two artists seem to come to their music from different starting points. Farrar is much more the Cosmic-American troubadour while Gibbard mostly plays the role of the navel-gazing indie popster. Regardless… they are two of my favorites, and I can’t wait to see what their pairing yields. You can read all about it over at Paste’s website.

I should also say that I’ve been slowly absorbing Son Volt’s latest release American Central Dust over the last few weeks. It didn’t really grab me on the first few listens (nothing here really has the raw power of something like “Drown”), but has started worming its way into my ear a bit more and more. Jay’s steel guitar has settled down a bit on this release, and he seems to play more in the country than the rock on this effort. Give it a second listen if you have to.

***Paste also had a great conversation starter that went up on their site Monday. Editor Josh Jackson listed his Top 20 R.E.M. Songs of All Time. The top two from my Top Five didn’t make the cut, but it’s still a strong list overall. The greatest thing about it is that you can listen to all twenty songs on Paste’s website. It’s a great R.E.M. primer if you’ve never explored their music before.

***I should also mention that I first came across each of those two links over at USA Today’s Pop Candy Blog. Whitney Matheson, the blog’s author, is a former Knoxvillian (current New Yorker) who posts several daily updates on anything and everything pop culture related from music to movies to comic books to an almost unhealthy obsession with moustaches. My wife turned me on to her site about a year ago, and her daily “Morning Buzz” posts have become required reading in our house ever since.

Music only makes up a small portion of what Pop Candy covers, but I do have to give Whitney credit for introducing me to Those Darlins a few months ago when they played SXSW in Austin. I probably wouldn’t even have opened the recent email I got from the band if I hadn’t read the positive reviews from Pop Candy. I accepted their invitation to attend a Darlin’s show in Knoxville back in May, started playing their music on WDVX shortly thereafter, blogged about them, and started pushing our Music Director to listen to their album. Now, Those Darlins are in heavy rotation at WDVX and will be featured on August’s Tennessee Shines concert broadcast along with Vienna Teng, Shawn Camp, and Guy Clark.

Check out Pop Candy if you get a chance. Whitney also weighed in on the R.E.M. debate with her personal Top Ten.

***By now you’re probably wondering what the picture at the top of today’s post has to do with anything.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a good deal of last week in Washington D.C. taking in the sights of our nation’s capitol. On Wednesday, my wife and I toured the National Gallery, The Smithsonian Museum of American History, and The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

The Air and Space Museum had a rather large exhibit dedicated to Orville and Wilbur Wright, the brothers from Ohio who designed and built the world’s first successful airplane. The exhibit had a replica of their famous aircraft that took that first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, design models from some of their earlier attempts, and a bevy of other artifacts.

Included in one of the displays was the mandolin pictured above. It seems that Orville Wright was known to pick a little from time to time, and that particular mandolin was his instrument of choice. I don’t know why that instrument struck me so… but I like the idea of Orville and Wilbur sitting around a campfire at the end of the day and picking out a tune.

As a tribute to Orville & Wilbur Wright… here is a tune from John Hartford that would not have been possible without their contributions.
John Hartford: Steam Powered Aereo Plane (Buy Album)

Essential Albums: Trace by Son Volt

Posted in Essential Albums, Jay Farrar, Son Volt on July 10, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

When I was first kicking around the idea of starting a blog I always thought my first post would be about this album. Post #3 still ain’t too shabby.

Trace was the first album released by Son Volt… the band Jay Farrar formed after the split of his previous band, Uncle Tupelo. While in Uncle Tupelo, Farrar and his band mates Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn blended the heartfelt lyrics of Leadbelly and The Carter Family with the punk rock fury of Iggy Pop and The Minutemen. The group recorded four albums together before infighting between Farrar and Tweedy led to a split following the release of the band’s 1992 album Anodyne. Tweedy formed the band Wilco while Farrar, Heidorn, and brothers Jim and Dave Boquist rose from Uncle Tupelo’s ashes with a project called Son Volt in 1994.

In 1995, the band released Trace… a strong effort that perfectly blurred the lines between country and rock and still stands as the Masterpiece of the 90’s Alt-country movement.

The album begins with “Windfall.” An acoustic country number that transports the listener to a deserted stretch of road on a “trail spent with fear.” The narrator is alone on the highway with nothing but his troubles and his prayers for the wind to take them away. Somewhere in the night, he finds a radio station with a heavenly sound to keep him going to the next stop.

The last verse and chorus:

Switching it over to AM
Searching for a truer sound
Can’t recall the call letters
Steel guitar and settle down
Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana
It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven

May the wind take your troubles away
May the wind take your troubles away
Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel,
May the wind take your troubles away

Incidentally, the name of this blog would have been “Searching for a Truer Sound,” but it was already taken. I also heavily considered “Steel Guitar and Settle Down.”

After “Windfall,” the album alternates between fiery country rock and more sombre acoustic numbers before closing with “Mystifies Me”… a bluesy country cover that originally appeared on Ron Wood’s (Rolling Stones) 1974 solo album. The rockers all feature catchy guitar riffs and driving beats. Jim Boquist is usually ready with a nice harmony vocal as well.

I didn’t really discover Son Volt or Jay Farrar until sometime around 2003 when I downloaded the following two songs from a file-sharing network that I used at the time. Within a couple of weeks, I had bought almost everything Farrar had recorded to that point. These songs, and this album, had that much of an impact on me. Jay Farrar has the Real Ultimate Power.

Son Volt: Windfall (Buy Album)
Son Volt: Drown (Buy Album)