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Death Songs for the Living

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Audio CD, October 31, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Gob Iron (British slang for a harmonica) is a brand new side project for Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo founder Jay Farrar. Teaming up with his friend (and Varnaline front man) Anders Parker, Farrar has recorded an album of new takes on American folk standards. Also known as the folk process, these are old songs by the likes of Stephen Foster and The Reverend JM Gates which have been given new lyrics or new arrangements in an effort to re-interpret the songs in a fresh way. Recorded over the course of just two days, Death Songs For The Living represents two craftsmen stepping out and taking a chance on some of the music that they hold most dear. Also included is the brand new Farrar original Buzz & Grind.

Gob Iron is the pairing of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt founder Jay Farrar with Anders Parker of Varnaline. They have updated a range of American folk songs, adapting lyrics, slowing tempos, combining parts of two different numbers, and in general fully celebrating one of the defining characteristics of folk music: that it is kept alive in the guise of whoever is its current vessel, reflecting their character as well as those of their predecessors. A number of tracks on Death Songs for the Living illustrate this concept of "the folk process." "Silicosis Blues" combines the titular lyric with the melody from another song, "Paul and Silas in Jail." Elsewhere, there are numbers by the Reverend J.M. Gates, Stephen Foster, and the Stanley Brothers. Nine brief instrumentals separate each of the ten songs, the final one a new Farrar original, "Buzz and Grind," which ups the wattage for their ride off into the sunset. --David Greenberger

1. Death's Black Train
2. Instrumental #1
3. Hard Times
4. Instrumental #2
5. Hills Of Mexico
6. Instrumental #3
7. Silicosis Blues
8. Instrumental #4
9. Wayside Tavern
10. Instrumental #5
11. Nicotine Blues
12. Instrumental #6
13. Death Is Only A Dream
14. Instrumental #7
15. East Virginia Blues
16. Instrumental #8
17. Little Girl And Dreadful Snake
18. Instrumental #9
19. Buzz & Grind

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 31, 2006)
  • Original Release Date: 2006
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony
  • ASIN: B000IU3YMI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,908 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Thomas D. Ryan on November 29, 2006
Format: Audio CD
For a while there, I got the impression that Jay Farrar was coasting a bit. Each album after Son Volt's debut offered a bit less in new ideas than the previous effort, and the Greatest Hits collection seemed to put a capper on things. Then Farrar revitalized Son Volt with a new line-up, and his creativity once again became readily apparent on "Okemah and the Melody of Riot". The side project Gob Iron proves that album was no fluke. Farrar is on fire once again, and "Death Songs for the Living" makes that point quite nicely. Teaming up with Anders Parker of Vernaline, the duo digs deep into the ballads and folk songs of rural America, turning them inside out while maintaining respect for the folk tradition. In that sense, this record is not too unlike Dylan's latest opus, "Modern Times."

The American folk idiom can be full of dark tales, especially when it comes to ballads. Greil Marcus called it "old, weird America," and that is mostly what this consists of; songs of sickness, bad luck, death and disease, all told through the voice of a protagonist that could be almost 200 years old. Remarkably, the collection never sounds morbid. Instead, it compels the listener to a state of sympathy. The pace is laconic, but only to the point that it suits the subject matter. "Nicotine Blues" is a brilliant example, utilizing the melody of "Coo Coo Bird" (see Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music for the `original' recording) to convey what every smoker instinctively fears but intuitively denies. Parker and Farrar use excellent judgment in their song choices, even reaching back as far as Stephen Foster for a mid-eighteenth century song about "Hard Times.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Timothy D. Cooper on November 9, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Please, please buy this phenomenal cd. Jay Farrar is pure genius, and, coupled with Anders Parker's magnificent work, this cd will be at the apex of a body of work that is of the very highest quality. It only remains to ask where such great music comes from in an age of despicable commercial trash and musical monotony. Farrar and Parker are not only musicians and folklorists of cutting edge achievement, they are also brave and true commentators of the current political and social scene.

To point out specific songs as highlights is, for me, impossible. You truly have to take this cd as a unified, complete work of art. That said, let me say how much I enjoy the intrumental interludes between songs. It gives me a sense of connection, of theme, and of mood. Still, I am in agreement that "Hard Times," "Buzz and Grind," and "Wayside Tavern" crystalize this artistic achievement.

Enjoy, reflect, and respond to this terrific cd. Music like "Death Songs for the Living" comes around all too infrequently.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. Porter on November 2, 2006
Format: Audio CD
I might not be the most accurate critic of anything "Farrar" because i pretty much love everything the guy does.

That said...i think Death Songs for the Living is a fantastic folk record. Both artists do an amazing job of adding their own footprints to classic folk-penned songs.

Jay's voice has never sounded better, as razor sharp as its ever been. The acoustic playing is top notch. The piano throughout the disc is subtle yet highly effective. Both artists harmonize very well with one another. Its amazing this CD was recorded in as short a timeframe as it was. Definitely one of the better sounding recordings i've heard this year.

I'm just now getting into the Parker songs...been stuck on the Farrar tunes since purchase, they are quickly growing on me as well. Something tells me i'll be checking out some Varnaline discs very soon.

Hard Times, Silicosis Blues and Little Girl, Dreadful Snake are my favorites so far.

Farrar's newly penned tune Buzz and Grind is phenomenal...has a killer guitar lick with Parker adding a smokin' slide on top of it. Believe it or not...its a little Allmanesque. Par for the course, Farrar's songwriting on this one is fantastic. I'm confident Jay will add it to Son Volt's repetoire.

This is a perfect Sunday morning, nasty weather, fire goin', with paper and coffee in hand release. (and then Buzz and Grind will have you reaching for your first beer).

I highly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. Prizer on November 6, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Gob Iron is Tupelo's 'March 16-20' meets Son Volt's 'Trace' meets R.L. Burnside. This is no joke. It's really that good. Farrar's "Hard Times" (almost entirely original lyrically speaking) should go down as one of his most powerful recordings to date. Just a painfully beautiful song... Farrar's voice is crisp and warm, droning its way through highs and lows, reassuring as it warns, leading you down dark paths but never letting go of your hand. His "East Virginia Blues" (a Carter family original) is a masterful blues stomp, and his voice has never sounded better than on the chorus -- "And I don't want your greenback dollar, I don't want your silver change...". His "Nicotine Blues" (entirely original lyrically) chills to the bone with the same haunting force of "Ten Second News" from Son Volt's debut or, what's more, "Nothin'" by Townes Van Zandt. When his take on Josh White's "Silicosis Blues" begins, Farrar's harmonica and acoustic picking will make you swear you're listening to 'March 16-20'. And his only entirely original recording on the disc, "Buzz & Grind," ends the record with a bluesy bang and reminds us that this song sounds no more relevant today than the other nine well-aged tunes found here. All of them speak to life's suffering and to what has defined human character since the beginning of time - the ability to endure that suffering in hopes of witnessing a better day.
Until now, I have written only of Farrar's work here. Anders Parker's is equally brilliant, and indeed his are some of the most powerful recordings on the disc.
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