Notes Of Blue
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Jay Farrar’s voice is a unique instrument, one that winds its way around the syllables he writes for his alt-country band Son Volt in ways that are surprising and affecting. Songs about personal heartache and universal angst are right in his wheelhouse, because of the way that he takes simple observations about these topics and reveals new complexities in them by a sudden rise or precipitous tumble in his vocal. Such songs are all over Notes Of Blue, so it’s no surprise then about the consistently high quality of the work.
Farrar starts the album off with two songs about resilience in hard times, while the eight songs that follow put that resilience constantly to the test. “Promise The World” warns us right off the bat that “There will be danger, there will be hell to pay,” only to counter with “Light after darkness, that is the way.” The heartland rocker “Back Against The Wall” promises that “All will be revealed” in times of crisis, as in the true measure of a man or woman.
The music on Notes Of Blue ranges, somewhat suddenly at times, from atmospheric folk to crunching rock. “Static” and “Sinking Down” find the band churning away in gritty, ZZ Top mode. “The Storm” and “Promise The World” take the opposite approach, with pretty acoustics and melodies that vary with the unpredictable quaver in Farrar’s voice.
Farrar can be an opaque songwriter, but adherence to the bluesy tone keeps him focused and sharp throughout. The most memorable track here, “Cairo And Southern,” keeps the words to a minimum, featuring repeated lyrical lines that are given a new emotional spin every time Farrar tackles them. Son Volt doesn’t try anything fancy on Notes Of Blue, nor does it need to. It simply puts the spotlight on the frontman and lets him knock every one of these songs high into the stormy skies and right out of the park.
The print version of this article, which appears in the March/April 2017 issue, incorrectly lists the author as Hal Horowitz.