By Kevin M. Wilson
Throughout his storied career Farrar has adhered to a historical method that is melodic in nature. In his decidedly original songs, Farrar offers a backward half-look over his shoulder at the likes of Buffalo Springfield, the Flying Burrito Brothers, John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, and the Carter family. As such, Farrar’s uniquely blended records have always provided a glimpse of both the past and future of American music.
Jay Farrar’s own past is legendary. As an adolescent, Farrar enjoyed playing 1960’s style garage-rock with his family. Then, while still quite young, he met Mike Heidorn and Jeff Tweedy. Together they formed what was to become a band of considerable eminence, Uncle Tupelo.
Probably best known for their debut album whose title, No Depression, was later appropriated to describe an entire musical movement, Uncle Tupelo’s style was perceived straightaway as an alternative to the mainstream country and radio-rock of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Though they remained relatively obscure throughout their existence, Uncle Tupelo’s popularity increased markedly with each recording and their music became a fixture on college campuses everywhere. Working in the studio with then-critical-favorites Michelle Shocked and Peter Buck (of REM) further established the band’s credibility. But by the time their fourth LP appeared in 1993, the band had, as Farrar puts it, “run out of gas.”
In the months following Uncle Tupelo’s demise, Jeff Tweedy assembled the first incarnation of Wilco while Jay Farrar formed a creative and dynamic band of his own, Son Volt. With Son Volt, Farrar found that he was free from the karma and expectations that had become attached to the Uncle Tupelo enterprise. And, more importantly, he would no longer have to compromise his songwriting vision. Though the cast of supporting musicians has fluctuated, each of the Son Volt albums feature ambitious arrangements that float around Farrar’s lyrics ultimately finding their own proper rhythm.
At various times Farrar has also indulged in more straightforward “solo” records but it is the higher-profile Son Volt releases that have consistently earned him the most acclaim. Like Farrar himself, Son Volt comes across as both traditional and innovative at the same time. This is especially true on their most recent release, The Search, which the band is currently supporting on the road.
Jay Farrar has had a gratifying career thus far and is clearly destined to be part of the American history he once aspired to study. As with many of his seminal influences, Farrar still likes to rock-out but is increasingly capable of a quiet, focused gaze.
Expect a bit of both when Son Volt returns to Headliner’s Music Hall April 9th.