Under Review: Son Volt – American Central Dust

There’s always been an unfairly placed cloud of contention between the careers of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. When they disbanded Uncle Tupelo in the mid ‘90s, they each took a slightly different musical vision with them. As Wilco became more popular and more inventive, Son Volt became the lesser child, forever standing in Wilco’s long shadow. That’s not to say that Farrar hasn’t, on occasion, bested Tweedy’s output in recent years. 2005’s Okemah & The Melody Of Riot was definitely more enjoyable than A Ghost Is Born (though everyone else seemed to mistake that album’s incoherence for starkness). Released just before Sky Blue Sky, The Search was the most adventurous thing that Farrar has done yet, incorporating complex instrumentation with great melodies and lyrics. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that American Central Dust doesn’t continue that evolution so much as it reflects on the band’s earliest records. Of course, given how genuinely great Son Volt’s first albums were, that’s not entirely a lament. American Central Dust is certainly not a “rocker” in the way that Wilco (The Album) is, if one were to continue the unjust comparisons. What it is, though, is a amiable romp through pretty balladry and wandering country music that doesn’t sound like a modern record. The piano- and string-driven “Cocaine And Ashes” is not so much a murder ballad as it is a being-murdered ballad. The slow descent into melancholia is further paved by Farrar’s indelible drawling mumble, Son Volt’s most distinctive instrument. Other distinctive instruments include the lap steel on “Dust Of Daylight” and some electrified keys on “When The Wheels Don’t Move.” American Central Dust isn’t going to be heralded as one of the greatest albums of our generation (or even of Son Volt’s own career), but it is proof of remembrance: Farrar hasn’t forgotten his roots, et tu Tweedy?

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~ by E. on July 10, 2009.

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