Thursday, August 07 7:30 PM
As a founder of alternative country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, as a solo artist, and as the leader of Son Volt, Jay Farrar’s work often seeks out the ghosts of America’s discordant or forgotten past, converses at length with them, and writes songs that stake a claim to a better future. Most recently, Farrar has added One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur (F-Stop/Atlantic), a collaboration project with Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, to his long list of critically acclaimed albums.
For many years, Farrar’s songwriting has been inspired and influenced by Kerouac’s compositional style. He called upon this inspiration when writing the songs for One Fast Move Or I’m Gone by pulling passages directly from the Kerouac’s Big Sur and putting them to music with Gibbard. These songs were then used in the documentary about Kerouac of the same name.
Son Volt’s most recent release, American Central Dust (Rounder), marks the apotheosis of both the Son Volt dynamic and the rigorous aesthetic that distinguishes Farrar’s entire body of work, in which classic and contemporary elements are fashioned into arresting new shapes. In the classic sense, the new album exhilaratingly carries on the tradition of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat circa Sailin’ Shoes, the Rolling Stones of Exile on Main Street and early R.E.M.
“The approach was to get back to more fundamental themes, both lyrically and musically, to make a more focused record,” Farrar explains. “The Search was more about expanding the scope in terms of song structures and instrumentation. This time around, I was going for a kind of simplicity, even in the structure of the songs. I probably learned that from listening to Tom Waits, where simplicity can be a virtue.”
These songs are the modern-day aural equivalent of the photographs of Walker Evans, Robert Frank and William Eggleston: sharply observed yet compassionate images of the telling details of everyday life during hard times. Several of them play out as psychological travelogues, as Farrar captures moods in motion. “I suppose I gather ideas for my songs while on the road,” he says, “but there’s also always the consciousness there that the songs are gonna be played on the road, so it’s intertwined.”