America's historical tragedies and triumphs exert a powerful influence on its greatest songwriters. There is little surprise in that fact: God and the Devil battle it out from sea to shining sea on nearly every page of American history. But in the hands of musicians, tales from this most uncivil war are forged into potent and poetic myths: A hellhound on a blues singer's trail. Injustices mourned by a man who wears black. Hattie Carroll and the Hurricane. The despair of dust bowls and a lack of do-re-mi.
Throughout his career, Jay Farrar has embraced those myths - and shaped new ones. As a founder of alternative country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, as a solo artist, and as the leader of Son Volt, his 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.
That American legacy of sin and salvation stands at the center of Son Volt's new record, Okemah (pronounced oh-KEE-mah) and the Melody of Riot. As the twelve new songs on Okemah swing from commotion to contemplation, they remain anchored in Farrar's passionate questioning of history to find words to articulate present calamities.
In keeping with that lyrical interrogation of past and present, the music on Okemah and the Melody of Riot finds Farrar revisiting the sounds of his previous work with increased fluency and assurance. Listeners who admired the ferocious guitar attack of Uncle Tupelo songs such as "Chickamauga" (from Anodyne) or Son Volt's "Straightface" (Wide Swing Tremolo) will revel in Okemah's turn back toward rock on tunes like "Jet Pilot" or "Who." Those who found consolation or inspiration in Farrar compositions such as melodic lilt of "Still Be Around" (from Uncle Tupelo's second record, Still Feel Gone) or the warm lyricism of "Windfall" (the first song on Son Volt's debut, Trace) will find those qualities in Okemah tracks like "6 String Belief" or "World Waits for You."
After releasing two critically acclaimed solo albums, Farrar picked up the Son Volt thread again with three new musicians Brad Rice (guitar), Andrew Duplantis (bass) and Dave Bryson (drums) - along with assists from Eric Heywood (pedal steel), John Horton (slide guitar), and Mark Spencer (slide guitar, slide dulcimer, organ and backing vocals.) The twelve songs on Son Volt's new record rise to the request that Farrar makes at the beginning of its final song, "World Waits for You": In a moment where many ask their music to comfort them with lies, Okemah and the Melody of Riot opts instead to trumpet harder lyrical and musical truths.