on March 5, 2013
Jay Farrar really delivered vocally on this album with the sound of Baskersfield (along with the influence of Tennessee and Texas . This album is all about classic Honky Tonk music and it is filled with great musuicans and really great songs. The songs talk about people conditions and matters of the heart. Things like booze, sadness, love , lost,the kind of music you want to listen too, while you're playing pool in the bar. The songs on this album have meaning and tug at my heart strings a little bit. You will be tapping your feet to the pedal guitar and twin fiddles, that how the good the musicans are on this album. Overall I think it is a great album and I like all the songs on the album. My three favorite songs are "Hearts and Mind", "Barricades" and "Down the Highway". If your are a fan of Son Volt or love Honky Tonk music get this album.
Jay Farrar is one of the founders of alternative country and along with Jeff Tweedy formed one of the most influential US bands ever the late great Uncle Tupelo. While Tweedy's Wilco has branched out into many different musical genre's Farrar has stayed true to the original country vision of the "No Depression" manifesto and is back with his band Son Volt to perform a splendid range of rock solid country songs inspired by a prime source. As Farrar stated in a recent interview for Spinner magazine "I wanted to acknowledge and pay homage to the country music that came out of Bakersfield; Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard," It is a genuine and loving tribute since the eleven songs on "Honky tonk" that strictly adheres to the vision of Hank Williams and Haggard and there treatises on heartache, heartbreak and headaches. The homage to Bakersfield gives the album a more acoustic bent than much of Son Volt's previous recordings although this record could be seen as a first cousin of 2009s 'American Central Dust".
If you love sad songs of wrecked lives and wastage played with fat pedal steel guitar, an aching fiddle and classic images of the American "flyover states" this is the album for you. Farrar's mournful bourbon soaked vocals get better with age and his deep country drawl is no better exemplified on the gorgeous pure pain of "Angel of blues" which should be listened to in a bar deep in the mid west with bottle of sipping whiskey and a burgeoning hangover. The songs "Bakersfield" is a cracker where Farrar plays a mean pedal steel and sings of working the land with minimal reward and "no cup of gold or candy mountain". "Down the highway" is even more desolate and you can almost feel the heat coming off a hot dirty straight road. The music here makes no pretence to alternative country modernity with "Tears of Change" a forlorn love song echoing the great Gram Parsons and his vision of Cosmic Americana. Equally the spirited opener "Hearts and minds" does introduce that sort of swinging country feel which Neil Young captured on "Comes a Time", while the song "Barricades" sees Farrar pleading that we must not let" the Barricades of life, keep the wild spirits still".
Key to Farrar's vision is the solid support provided by fellow band members not least the twin fiddles of Gary Hunt and Justin Branum - both new to Son Volt - and Brad Sarno and Mark Spencer's pedal steel. If your idea of a modern hell is authentic country music in the raw stay clear of "Honky Tonk" alternatively if you love dark corners and a sense of desolate solitude Son Volt perform this music with first class honours degree in classic vintage Americana and tales of broken hearts and bar room nights.
on March 11, 2013
And 2013 shows Son Volt practicing a radical idea: turning down the Vox amps and heading back to the land that made "Creosote" such a fervent, slow burn. But make no mistake: "Honky Tonk", a real blindside, is no "Straightaways". It's less unnerving, less bloodthirsty. It's almost fun. But it's never novelty, even though it has the confidence and earth to kick off with a stop-start waltz. One song deep, and you're grabbing for the keys.
That's not to say that Jay Farrar doesn't still sell the grandest of grandiose one-liner lyrics that grapple with themes of redemption and fear. It just means that this time, he's not blasting them from behind a wall of noise with airhorns wailing. It's amazing, listening to songs like "Living On" (heir to "Gather" or "Ten Second News" in terms of glory), or "Barricades" (their most gorgeous, unique offering here), or "Bakersfield" (accompanied by an AM-ready vibrato that shakes underneath its foundation), to realize that they've finally broken free from frivolous comparison. This is, finally, a new Son Volt album worthy of standing alone, free from every clenched fist and tear-stained eye, one whose songs dig deep and don't necessarily need to prove themselves. Free from these constrictions, imagination abounds. "Brick Walls" counts off with a single plucked Telecaster note. "Tears of Change" shuffles late-night car-radio style on an unusually gentle lyric, even for Farrar. Closer "Shine On" is a Farrar classic; its unspoken truths linger long after you've walked away. Moments like that echo from everywhere.
The range of emotion herein is so wide, so profound, that I can't recall a Son Volt album since you-know-when digging this deep. That's no knee-jerk 5-star there - it's well-earned. This is far more than just the melancholy/tribulation of a previous release appropriated for a new landscape, but an assured, dead-on and much needed spring rain.
on April 6, 2013
I ordered this CD and Farrar's "memoir" at the same time and have spent the last few weeks listening to the music in a variety of settings--car trips, the commute, in the den at the end of the day. There's some moderately fun stuff here ("Seawall," "Hearts and Minds," . . . "Shine On" is a nice coda, I suppose), but let's be honest:
1. It's not "Straightaways," let alone "Trace."
2. If you find yourself humming songs from those albums, or singing them in the shower, well, you probably won't be doing the same with these songs. I'm not, and I'm pretty sure a few dozen more listens isn't going to alter that reality.
3. If you're like me, your mind will start to wander in the middle of this set, for the songs have a sameness that makes them easy to ignore.
4. For a tribute to the Bakersfield sound, you'd think even dour young Jay Farrar would realize that Buck, Dwight, etc., had a lot more fun with this kind of material.
And I think that's my biggest problem; for all the musical virtuosity on display, there's little sense of mischief, or joy. That may be too much to ask of this band at this point, hence the title of this review, but I find that the Avett Brothers are scratching the itch this band used to, so I can only conclude that, as saccharine as the Avett's occasionally can be, I'm a sucker for the notion that it's good for a band to convey that they enjoy what they're doing. Your mileage may vary. But it strikes me that Son Volt is and has been firmly in that grey area where the Stones and Dylan found themselves, with each new album hailed as a return to form, then found wanting, then put away while we waited for the next one.
Two and one half stars. Wait for the next one.
There's continuity between Son Volt's last album, American Central Dust, and Honky Tonk: both are inspired by music which is purely American, which has grown out of the heartland & even the American collective mythology. But Honky Tonk delves deeper into country/Americana. Farrar captures the essence of this genre, some of the songs could easily have been written half a century ago or performed by Hank Williams. There are fiddles here, and steel guitar.
But though the songs have may hark back to an earlier time, they are all Jay's - his voice and singing style are perfect for this type of song, it's as if he were born to sing these. The subjects are ones Jay Farrar's visited many times before: the vagaries of love, long highways, weariness, struggle, redemption, hope. The roots go not only deep into American music's past, but into his own: some of these songs would have been right at home on Son Volt's debut album, Trace - or on an Uncle Tupelo release.
The production is just a little murky - this isn't new for Son Volt and somehow it really works. (Super-bright and clear notes aren't what these songs are all about anyway.) The band sounds like they love playing these songs. They transport you to a worn roadside bar, at some undefinable moment somewhere from the 1940s to the present.
It isn't an album which will shock you - or break much new ground - it's just not that kind of music. But it's perfect for the kind of thing it is.
I love to listen to music in the car, and that's how I first heard Honky Tonk. It's perfect for the road and will be the soundtrack to a whole lot of my road trips this spring & summer.
If you like the country, accoustic Son Volt - or just want a fresh new take on old-school country, I think you'll much enjoy Honky Tonk!
on March 5, 2013
The new outing by Son Volt, or more personally, from Jay Farrar and his band of cohorts, the more rootsy offshoot from Uncle Tupelo, have delivered an album that's so lush, so dripping with smooth alternative country pedal steel guitar licks, twin fiddles, and warm shuffling rhythms that on first listen had me sincerely wondering if I'd heard all this years ago and had just forgotten it. But no, Honky Tonk is fresh and new, and lives up to its name, a name that was slyly pointed out to me as being a verb, a noun, a place, a genre, and a way of life.
Son Volt come in the back door here, not focusing on the lyrics or singing to carry the songs [both of which are filled with country inspired intonations], but rather the fiddles and pedal steel guitar to create a vintage type of chorus effect that I've yet to hear in alternative country sounds, and is no doubt the reason this album comes across as something already laden with dust and memories. For Jay, these memories are drawn from the likes of Stewart and Buck Owens, Ray Price, George Jones, and Wynn Stewart, all Bakersfield musicians, proving that Bakersfield is about more than oil, and is certainly able to hold down the country side of the radio dial ... back when on the tail end of rainy night in Philadelphia [during the late 50's and early 60's] I could pick up the mystic voices of these cats bouncing in from California on the low hanging clouds from KUZZ, AM 550.
Honky Tonk sounds like a traditional country album, but it's deeply more, there's still rock n' roll and spicy blues running through the chords, it's just that these sounds have been subverted, in a manner of speaking, to morph their country expressions into something more inclusive, yet not quite expansive, causing me to again ponder the question of what Gram Parsons might have contributed to the world had he and his running mates not been so consumed with with a breakfast of vodka and Tuinals while wearing Nudie Suites.
And to the `verbage' of Honky Tonk:
- A Honky Tonk [is a place, a noun] ... a bar, a roadhouse.
- To Honky Tonk [is a verb] ... to be `honky tonking' is to step into another world, to leave the work-a-day life behind, if only for a few hours.
- Honky Tonk music is a genre ... one where the band's playing a two beat rhythm with a crisp backbeat, filled with steel guitar and fiddles.
- And finally, Honky Tonk is a lifestyle, a lifestyle of amplified guitars and fiddles, low slung hats, embroidered shirts, dusty boots, sincere smiles, and of course Nudie Suites.
Review by Jenell Kesler
on March 12, 2013
I have always been a fan of Son Volt, but there seemed to be fewer and fewer great tracks on each successive album. This album, however, is great beginning to end. This is the kind of music Jay Farrar is a master at. For anyone who kind of forgot about Son Volt after "Trace" I would highly recommend giving "Honky Tonk" a listen. If you are a fan of Country music, but are getting tired of the top 40 "country" on the radio, this would be a great introduction to another side of country music that has been around forever, but gets little play from most radio stations and CMT. I hope Jay Farrar keeps mining this stuff forever, but knowing he probably won't, at least we finally have this album.
on March 11, 2013
If you've always secretly wished Son Volt would just stop beating around the bush and crank out a real country album this is it. The tunes are slow, sad, and beautiful. The lyrics are less abstract and perfectly sung. It doesn't quite have the power of the previous album and my current favorite, American Central Dust, but it's very focused album and has a true charm.
It could be longer, though none of the songs seem all that short. I've read reviews that thought most of the songs didn't really stand out but I think most of them would have been my favorite had it been on a previous album, mixed in among the harder songs.
on March 5, 2013
Like the best of Son Volt, this set of songs builds and blooms with every listen. The writing is very strong and there're definitely tears in the beer. One quibble: the sound is good but the production is a bit lackluster. Someone like Joe Henry could've spiced up the mix a bit.
on April 10, 2013
As usual Jay Farrar and his band have put out another slice of great Americana. Only this time they pulled no punches with this aptly titled album. Mr. Farrar often hovers between Americana singer/songwriter to rave up roots rocker, but this very nice paen to country & western shows why Nashville is dead to me and anyone else who likes the tradition of AM 1950s & '60s C & W.