Misery loves company, and Jay Farrar has always proven himself a suitable sidekick.
In a career spanning more than 20 years, Farrar has never strayed too far from his beer-soaked country roots. Through Son Volt, he’s managed to keep the hurt and anguish alive over the course of six full-length albums, but his seventh, the aptly titled Honky Tonk, feels more in touch with its broken-down country lineage than anything the band has done in years.
Son Volt’s music has always drawn straight from the well, mining from yesteryear outlaw country heroes like Buck Owens and Hank Williams while coating it with more contemporary alternative rock influences. But Honky Tonk strips away any semblance of ’90s guitar rock sheen, leaving listeners with a rawer set of hard luck songs set to a symphony of acoustic and steel guitars and strings. Tracks like “Seawall” and “Wild Side” best capture the record’s overall mood, that of a leisurely line-dance at a thinly attended VFW Hall.
What hasn’t changed so much is Farrar’s poetic, if sullen, lyrical bent. The record is littered with weary, salt-of-the-earth references to diner jukeboxes and “hearts hung out on the line to dry,” and Farrar wastes little time in commiserating on opening track “Hearts and Minds” (“We can’t go wrong, we can’t go right / It’s the common thread between us”). Elsewhere, “Brick Walls” finds the singer talking through the anguish of a stale relationship (“There’s more brick walls than bridges on the way to your heart”).
Honky Tonk finds Farrar once again bearing the brunt of Son Volt’s musical and emotional baggage, and that’s nothing new. But there’s little use trying to fix something that isn’t broke, and the formula’s still effective even after so many trips down the same old country road.
Essential tracks: “Seawall”, “Hearts and Minds”