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Archive for the ‘Son Volt’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STEVE EARLE-Transcendental Blues (2000).

I’ve never really liked Steve Earle’s music.  For some reason I always thought of him as a kind of outlaw country.  But the review of this album from Hornby made me want to check it out.  And while there are certainly country music trappings, this is a solid fun rock record.

Earle’s voice isn’t what I thought it was (or wasn’t was it is now)–it’s much softer and much higher than I imagined.  So what’s going on on this record?

“Transcendental Blues” has a great distorted guitar riff running opposite the throbbing bassline.  Earle’s voice sounds like a cross between Dylan, Petty and (anachronistically) Kevin Devine.  “Everyone’s in Love with You” sounds like a rocking R.E.M. song with a very 90s vocal style and even a reverse guitar solo.

“Another Town” sounds like a song that I’ve heard a million times (but I haven’t).  It’s a simple pop song with a crazy catchy melody and it’s barely 2 minutes long.  “I Can’t Wait” slows things down a bit with a real poppy Matthew Sweet-vibe.

“The Boy Who Never Cried” is a dirgey song, slow and story telling.  It has strings with a slightly Middle Eastern feel.

“Steve’s Last Ramble” is a stompin’ song with full on harmonica introduction (which makes it seem even more Dylan).  “The Galway Girl” is a mandolin-based stomper while “Lonelier Than This” is a quiet, sad song.

“Wherever I Go” is only two minutes ling and has a country feel, even though it’s not that different from the other songs.  The guitar solo is totally early Beatles, but the lyrics are pure country:

I could drink corn whisky ’til my brain goes soft
I could run this highway ’til my wheels come off

The harmonica returns on “When I Fall” the start of a trifecta of country songs.  His drawl really comes out here, possibly because of his duet partner (Steve Earle’s sister, Stacey Earle, a country singer in her own right).  It’s a shame this song is so long as it’s my least favorite.

“I Don’t Want to Lose You Yet” is a simple country pop song (the twang remains).  Although “Halo ‘Round the Moon” is a softer song with a gentle shuffle beat.  “Until the Day I Die” continues with the old school country/bluegrass style with a big ol’ banjo intro, close harmonies, and a fiddle solo.  You can imagine a jug solo, hand clappin’ and a hoedown in a live version.

“All of My Life” rocks out again, with some loud bass and distorted guitar, which I desperately needed after those last few songs.

The disc ends with “Over Yonder (Jonathan’ Song).”  From songfacts:

This song is about the execution-by injection of Jonathan Nobles, which Steve Earle witnessed. The alt-country star told Mojo magazine May 2008 about it: “I don’t recommend it. I befriended Jonathan for several months beforehand. Then I saw the execution and later brought his remains to England for burial according to his wishes. But the execution was incredibly toxic to me. It’s hard. You can’t believe it’s really happening. I remember afterwards I thought, ‘did I black out and miss it? I let Jonathan down.’ Then the blank filled in… it was the shock… I realized exactly what I’d seen. I can’t see myself doing it again. I’ve absorbed enough death. And I still work hard against the death penalty.”

So I’m still on the fence about Earle, but I did enjoy this record much more than I thought I would.  Thanks, Nick.

[READ: June 15, 2019] “Alternative Earle”

I am aware of Steve Earle and I really like his lyrics.  I don’t love his music though–too much country in the alt-country.  Although Hornby describes it as Nashville folk and rock n roll hybrid.  But man, his lyrics are great.  I wish I liked him a bit more especially after reading this review.

Hornby is a passionate music lover and anything he likes sounds great when he describes it.

The album in question is Transcendental Blues (and in the photo Earle’s beard is much shorter than it is now).  As of 2000, Earle has been married and divorced six times (to five women–4 and 6 were the same person). In 1994 he was imprisoned for possessing narcotics.  This sentence ending years of heroin addiction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAY FARRAR-NonComm (May 17, 2019).

I didn’t like Uncle Tupelo back in the day. So when they broke up I didn’t really care.  I was supposed to care about the alt-country movement, but I didn’t. So I wasn’t interested in Sun Volt or Wilco.

Years later I have really gotten into Wilco and I feel like I’m supposed to dislike Jay Farrar because of the acrimonous split back in the day. But heck without the split, there’d be no Wilco.

I’ve never given Jay Farrar or Son Volt much thought.  So here’s my first real listen to him.

In this setting I find that he sounds a lot like John Doe, a deep soulful voice with acoustic guitar and electric accompaniment.

Jay Farrar‘s soulful folk sound graced the NPR Music stage Friday afternoon for the last day of NonCOMM. While he softly strummed his acoustic guitar, his Son Volt bandmate Mark Spencer backed him up on electric.

This set was made up of Son Volt songs.

He started with “The Reason” a thoughtful song and an indicator of what the rest of the set would sound like.  Calm music, lovely harmonies and pretty backing guitars.

Up next was “Reality Winner” which he introduced as saying “she was put in jail for sharing the truth.”  It’s a powerful song about a real incident that made news at the time but, like so many other things, it was eclipsed by the daily insanity of our government.  From The Boot:

Reality Winner, born in the South Texas town of Alice, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. On June 3, 2017, Winner was arrested after leaking a confidential document to an online news site, The Intercept.  “It’s a really unjust situation where Reality Winner leaked information for the right reason,” Farrar tells The Boot. “She proved that there was Russian interference in the 2016 [presidential] election.”

The lyrics:

What have you done, Reality Winner?
Reality Winner, what have you done?
This jail is a stone-cold answer
The biggest mistake of a Texas lifetime
In this ballad of the commander-in-chief
Is there any mercy for this standing belief?
Felt like gaslighting, not something to just accept
Proud to serve, just not this president
Those that seek the truth will find the answers

Up next was “Devil May Care”

Spencer harmonized with Farrar on a few songs; their vocals joined beautifully together for the chorus of “Devil May Care.”

There isn’t a lot of diversity in these songs.  Farrar’s voice is great but doesn’t change all that much.  They are good folk/country songs.  But I think it might be his presence that makes these song work so well:

The crowd was singing along to Farrar’s set and there was a feeling of mutual respect flowing between the performer and his audience. He has a stage presence that’s just plain cool. Not everyone can wear sunglasses inside without looking like a total jerk.

He introduced the next song saying that these songs are on the new Son Volt album of protest songs.  You may say “What is there to protest and I’d say Just about everything.”

Before singing “Union,” Farrar made a statement about there being protests about everything lately. He continued to tell this story through song while Spencer killed it on steel guitar.

This is a simple song that lays out our country’s divide and recounts Farrar’s father’s belief about the need for something to bind the country together: “He said national service/ Will keep the union together.”

“The 99” is also straightforward.  It may not be timely in the title (I don’t think people use that phrase as much anymore), but the sentiment is spot on:

Journalists in jail covering the scenes
The profit columns rise for the corporate machines
Take the stand now, protest and holler
Desecration of the land for the almighty dollar
Ninety-nine percent
Ninety-nine percent
It’s a trickle-down world
Like you’re stuck in cement

All of the songs were from the new album Union, but he ends the set with an old song.

The mood was brought back up as the set concluded with “Windfall”, a two-decade-old Son Volt song [from Trace].

It is certainly more positive, I guess from back when things were a bit better (the 90s).

[READ: June 3, 2019] “A Dream of Glorious Return”

It’s not often that people intentionally read twenty-year old news.  Maybe for historical reasons or, in my case, because you want to read a piece by a particular author.

So here is a twenty-year old essay from Salman Rushdie about the first time he returned to India after the fatwa had been put on his head twelve years earlier.

He returned to India in April 2000 (I guess the 90s weren’t great for Rushdie).

But first he talks about the many times he left India.  First when he was thirteen and went to boarding school in Rugby, England.  While he was away his father sold their family home in Bombay.  Salman was devastated and is still angry about it.  He believes he would be living there today if they still owned it. (more…)

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