Music review: Son Volt 'Honky Tonk'

Jay Farrar goes for the Bakersfield sound with Son Volt's “Honky Tonk.”
BY GENE TRIPLETT Entertainment Editor etriplett@opubco.com Modified: March 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm •  Published: March 15, 2013

ALTERNATIVE COUNTRY-ROCK

Son Volt ‘Honky Tonk' (Rounder)

Unlike his old partner Jeff Tweedy from their days in Uncle Tupelo, who's delved deeply into alt-rock experimentation with Wilco, Jay Farrar has never strayed far from the original Tupelo mission of modernizing Americana and country with punk-rock attitude and Woody Guthrie-style folk sensibilities in his solo work and with his intrepid alt-rustic band Son Volt.

With “Honky Tonk,” Farrar's sixth Son Volt album, he's going for an update of the smoky barroom sounds of Bakersfield, Calif., where a lot of Okie musicians landed after escaping the Dust Bowl down Route 66 to the coast. And it works beautifully.

“Hearts and Minds” is a mournful midtempo hoedown comprised of fiddles, accordion and pedal steel guitars buoying Farrar's crooning drawl — or drawling croon if you prefer — as he bemoans the shaky promise and dangers of love.

Not since Gram Parsons and the Byrds' “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” has there been such country-rock candy as “Seawall,” which praises “honky tonk angels” who “still walk this ground” as queens of Charleston, West Virginia and Kingman, Arizona. Can you guess who they are?

And “Brick Walls,” with even more jubilant pedal steel and fiddle and upbeat acoustic guitar knocking down the bricks of hopelessness and despair, makes this one of the most stirring studio sets Farrar has yet achieved.

— Gene Triplett