High energy: Son Volt swaggers into town packing a great protest album
Enough ink has been spilled about Uncle Tupelo to fill an alt-country encyclopedia.
OK, OK, OK. The band has broken up. The fat broad has sung. The albums have all been released. Even the anthology. Go and buy them. Fawn, fawn away. Live in the past.
The music was, undoubtedly, a sound to behold, and Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrarâ€™s creative divorce was more thought-provoking than most peopleâ€™s marriages.
But since then, no matter how hard Tupeloâ€™s founders try to show audiences how much theyâ€™ve grown, jerks conceited enough to call themselves rock journalists keep revisiting the sordid past like the soap opera still holds any relevance.
Truthfully, Farrarâ€™s not into nostalgia or sour grapes. Hell, it took him years to fully address Tupeloâ€™s demise.
Thatâ€™s because it has been, and always will be, about the music. Farrarâ€™s into making records â€” Son Voltâ€™s Trace, Straightaways and Wide Swing Tremolo, followed by three solo studio albums and a live record, Stone, Steel and Bright Lights â€” to name a few.
And late last year he graced us with the tightest set of protest music since Zack de la Rocha told Generation X to take back the power.
Okemah and the Melody of Riot, the latest Son Volt album in, well, a while, is half Farrarâ€™s personal State of the Union, half homage to pioneer Woody Guthrie and the legendary folk singers who fought against injustice one song at a time.
Guthrie was a writer, soldier, musician and union organizer who once described his hometown of Okemah, Okla., as the â€œsingiest, square-dancingest, drinkingest, yellingest, preachingest, walkingest, talkingest, laughingest, cryingest, shootingest, fist-fightingest, bleedingest, gamblingest, gun club and razor carryingest of our ranch towns and farm towns.â€
Farrar was born in Belleville, Ill., in 1966, the year before Guthrie finally succumbed to Huntingtonâ€™s chorea disease in a Queens hospital. Maybe the proximity of these events suggests a torch was passed from one generation to another: Farrar is continuing Guthrieâ€™s ideological fistfight against the forces of oppression and evil.
â€œBandages and Scarsâ€ leads off this pack of rabble-rousers, daring everyone to pretend the country is on the right track. Against a foundation that combines sweet vibrato and CCR ruckus, â€œJet Pilotâ€ chides W. for being an overprivileged rich kid: Jet Pilot for the day/washed his sins away/loves to see the Rangers play/Junior liked to let his hair down/Only trouble is, word gets around. Itâ€™s evocative, even though youâ€™ve heard it shouted by protester upon protester a thousand times before.
On â€œMedication,â€ Farrarâ€™s distinctive timbre â€” you can recognize his voice anywhere â€” and droning, Middle Eastern-ish guitar work make sense for a tune that derides Americaâ€™s need to self-medicate its problems. As heavy as the album gets at times, Farrar manages to stray from politics, but just a little â€” â€œ6 String Beliefâ€ is a manifesto for every kid who ever wanted to play rock â€™nâ€™ roll.
Which is the plan for this Saturday, when Farrar and the retooled Son Volt visit Headliners to help raise cash for WFPK-FM and its Sunday night show â€œRoots and Boots.â€
Itâ€™s appropriate that heâ€™ll be singing about corruption, greed and the need to search for a higher purpose, on the night before Super Bowl XL, Americaâ€™s enduring and ever-growing monument to commercialism and corporate greed.
An overwhelming tribute, Okemah is Farrar living up to his own goals, sung beautifully on the albumâ€™s last track, â€œWorld Waits For Youâ€: Find strength from the words/of those that went before/take what you need/but leave even more.
Quickly, for an update on last weekâ€™s physical challenge that appeared on this page: I (sort of) confronted you, the faithful and attractive reader, to come up with the last time three or more Louisville bands released records on the same night, at the same show. Not that I didnâ€™t believe itâ€™d never been done before; I just didnâ€™t remember or care to spend the time researching to find out. And predictably, Iâ€™ve been shown wrong. Or short on information. Or memory.
Itâ€™s happened at least twice in recent history. Shawn Severs apprised me of the Fifth Annual South End Show, which happened March 15, 2002, at the BRYCC House. Red Sun, The Lost, Three Nails for a False Prophet, Ayin and My Life Denial played the annual Noise Pollution Records shindig, which also saw the release of six CDs: the annual compilation featuring the bands that played, Blacklisted (Live: Screaming at the Walls), Noise Pollution (sampler Sensory Overload), The Fuse (Practice), Red Sun (Wired) and (Live in the South End).
A couple years prior, Chester, The Evolution of Music and Brass Tacks released albums on the same day, although the proprietor of all three, Kevin Kraus, couldnâ€™t pin down the exact date.
If thereâ€™s more, let me know.
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