album reviews

Gob Iron
Death Songs for the Living
Transmit Sound/Legacy (2006)

After the breakup of seminal alt-country act Uncle Tupelo in the mid-1990s, its two prime songwriters, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, veered in vastly different directions. While Tweedy found relatively rapid success with Wilco, Farrar seemed to flounder between Son Volt and his solo albums. He has taken a more retrospective approach with his new project, Gob Iron, reinterpreting a number of American folk songs with Varnaline's Anders Parker.

The collaboration is breathtaking, as Parker and Farrar swap lead vocal duties on the album's eight covers, each of which is followed by a brief, palate-cleansing instrumental. Farrar's voice has always carried a heavy melancholy, which grows even more intense here, as he adds a devastating weariness to Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" and a dejected heartbreak to A.P. Carter's "East Virginia Blues."

By contrast, Parker's songs are more reflective. He leads a haunting take on the traditional "Hills of Mexico" that conveys a bitter tale of cowboys cheated out of wages on a buffalo hunt, and his slowed-down, piano-driven version of the Stanley Brothers' "Death Is Only a Dream" bears the tenderness of a lullaby. "Death Songs" ends on a more up-tempo note, with a new, Farrar-penned song, "Buzz & Grind," that blazes with an energy rejuvenated by this new partnership and the exploration into the songs of the past.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 10 November 2006, Page WE10
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