Digging in the dirt
American Central Dust
Having emerged from the wreckage of Uncle Tupelo in the mid-90s, with Jeff Tweedy and company splitting off to form Wilco, Jay Farrar's Son Volt persona has wandered a somewhat erratic and occasional wayward path through alt country's highways and byways.
Their last album, The Search (2007), had Farrar come back from a series of indifferent solo releases, adorning the material with a lustre that sometimes bordered on country-fied psychedelia.
If The Search was something of a multi-coloured journey with a widened spread of textural choices, the new album makes more of a mark with less tools, going all black and white with just a hint of sepia-tinged nostalgia creeping in around the edges.
American Central Dust swirls with dark roads, biker bars, broken dreams, heart-ache, brutal truths and other familiar archetypes. Yet despite such recourse to such well-worn touchstones this doesn't sound like a backwards step.
If anything, the stripped-back sound gets us closer to the bones of his chosen themes which alternate between the intimate micro-climates of the soul and the macro-consequences of when pride most assuredly comes before a fall.
The dark comedy of Keith Richards' alleged act of communion that saw him blend a Class A drug with his father's cremated remains becomes a poetic exploration of loss at close quarters on Cocaine And Ashes.
When The Wheels Don't Move is a concession to their occasionally rockist threads. Across ominous rolling thunder drums and lightning slashes of fuzz-charged guitar, Farrar checklists how the industrialised half of the world seems hell-bent on wrecking it all for everyone. Apocalypse now, indeed.