Jay Farrar has amassed a sizable and distinctive body of work since coming on the radar with Uncle Tupelo in 1989. The Search, the fifth album by the St. Louis-based artist under the Son Volt...
Jay Farrar has amassed a sizable and distinctive body of work since coming on the radar with Uncle Tupelo in 1989. The Search, the fifth album by the St. Louis-based artist under the Son Volt nameplate, takes Farrar's signature juxtapositions of the arcane and the modern to provocative extremes, contrasting the blue highways of a disappearing cultural landscape with a perilous world in which the center no longer holds - a world of information overload, of clueless leaders carrying out sinister agendas, of "Hurricanes in December - earthquakes in the heartland/Bad air index on a flashing warning sign," as the artist sings ruefully on "The Picture."
The Search's 14 songs locate and vividly portray the prevailing modes of the human condition in the first decade of the 21st century: cynicism ("Beacon Soul"), reflection ("The Search"), restlessness ("L Train," "Highways and Cigarettes"), yearning ("Adrenaline and Heresy"), paranoia ("Automatic Society"), despair ("Methamphetamine") and conditional hopefulness ("Underground Dream," "Phosphate Skin"). By turns melancholy and exhilarating, the album further cements Farrar's status as one of rock's most eloquent chroniclers of contemporary existence.
Before the sessions that led to The Search (recorded to analog tape with favored live approach), Farrar expanded the current Son Volt lineup of drummer Dave Bryson, bass player Andrew DuPlantis and guitarist Brad Rice - introduced on the 2005 album Okemah and the Melody of Riot - to include keyboardist Derry deBorja, a former bandmate of Bryson's in Canyon, which backed Farrar on the 2004 live solo LP, Stone, Steel & Bright Lights. deBorja's presence brings added dimension to the band's sonic palate in parallel with the expanded thematic scope of the material. The resulting textures and tonalities are the richest and most intricate in Farrar's oeuvre, with string effects, backwards loops, a horn section, electric bouzouki and other unexpected accents bringing striking new shadings to Son Volt's bedrock sound, an amalgam of the Byrds, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the blues, murder ballads, old-time country and other indigenous elements.
After opting to put Son Volt aside for five years in order to undertake a series of solo projects, Farrar is now two albums into the band's second incarnation, describing the decision as a matter of "unfinished business." Son Volt, he explains, represents "a kind of aesthetic that I want to continue doing. The solo stuff had a liberating effect out of just doing something different for several years. But ultimately, I felt getting back to Son Volt was something that had to happen."