THIRTY TIGERS 17th February 2017
Weepy lap steel welcomes us to Son Volt’s new album. A gently dark ramble through an uncomfortable portion of a long-term relationship, it is unrepresentative of the overall atmosphere of the set and the mood isn’t revisited till the closing song. As the title, Notes Of Blue, clumsily announces, Delta Blues is the well from which the album draws. Songs like Static are hard electric blues, crunching riffs and tales of hard times – a bit less elliptical than we usually get from Jay Farrar. Cherokee St. runs almost entirely on the blues shuffle of a guitar. Lost Soul is loud and the riffs are shaped nicely through a well-miked speaker; as they are in Midnight, which drips with guitar atmosphere, played slow and torrid.
The electric guitar is a constant presence here, full of texture, simply amplified and with an individual voice. The sound on Cairo And Southern is lovely, rolling and chiming, dragging and echoing; backing Farrar’s almost Waits-ish lazy drawl. Sinking Down alternates slow sad blues and speedy thrashes, while Back Against The Wall is a mid-paced polemic on the state of things. It breaks for Neil Young-style fuzzed up guitar figures. Perhaps the most shapely track is The Storm; a quiet and lonely little folk lament on wasted time and wasted efforts.
Jay Farrar has made eight albums now under the band name Son Volt and I don’t know how many favours it does him. With a rolling roster, his is the only constant factor yet, whenever anyone hears the name, they think ‘that’s the band Jeff Tweedy started out in, in the nineties, before Wilco’. It probably draws a few sales but perhaps working under his own name would earn him even more kudos for this constantly changing body of work, exploring different themes and sounds, starting with Americana and wandering to its boundaries.
This album is a valuable addition to the canon and a great exemplar of what the blues can do.