album reviews

Son Volt
The Search
Transmit Sound/Legacy (2007)

Jay Farrar may never shake the alt-country label; his somber voice has always dripped with twang, and his history with the seminal Uncle Tupelo has overshadowed most of his work since that group's 1994 breakup. But with "The Search," the fifth studio effort from his post-Tupelo band, Son Volt, Farrar infuses his twangy sound with a fuller, more rock-slanting instrumentation.

His most raucous departure comes with the lively Memphis-styled horn section in "The Picture," which makes a stark contrast to the song's gloomy lyrics ("War is profit and profit is war / We'll know when we get there / If we'll find mercy"). That disparity between sound and lyrics carries a fiddling-while-Rome-burns irony, as the jubilant brass draws even more attention to the sobering picture Farrar paints of the future consequences of today's political decisions.

Son Volt is not quite as brash -- lyrically or sonically -- on the rest of "Search," but the album still exudes a rejuvenated feel. Even on the sparse, piano-driven "Adrenaline and Heresy," Farrar's plaintive lyrics are captivating, and his weary voice augments the gloomy tale he tells on "Methamphetamine," with a realistic narrative flair that he has been honing ever since his Tupelo days.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 11 May 2007, Page WE09
.: The Search on