Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
A few reviews back, I stated that no artist/group with any longevity has a tenth album that sounds like their first. Well this is Son Volt’s ninth album and it does sound quite a bit like Son Volt’s first release, Trace. Normally, I would be a little put off by that, but not in this instance. This sound works for Jay Farrar and Son Volt. I love the country leaning song structure and the pedal steel & fiddle accents. I think for the casual listener, many of the songs would sound alike; however, they sound quite distinct to me. I have listened to Son Volt frequently over the years and the songs seem varied and unique.
Notes of Blue is the follow up to Honky Tonk, which was released in 2013. Honky Tonk, as the title suggests was more steeped in traditional or classic country. This new album is more electric and a little more heavy handed with production. Although the production work is more pronounced, I wouldn’t consider it over produced by any means. I think Honky Tonk was my favorite Son Volt release to date, but Notes Of Blue is pretty solid. That classic trademark Son Volt sound which is etched with Farrar’s distinct vocals comes through loud and clear.
There are the slower more introspective songs on Notes of Blue such as Promise the World, Back Against The Wall, The Storm, and Cairo & Southern. This is counterbalanced by some really upbeat rockers like Cherokee Street, Sinking Down, Lost Souls and Static.
Static (Track 3) is my go to song at this point. This song flat out smokes. It starts with a fairly heavy and noisy guitar riff that naturally weaves into Farrar’s singing. It is more reminiscent of an Uncle Tupelo number than Son Volt, but it it works really well. I like the energy and bravado of this song a whole lot. Static is a song about the fuzziness of life and sometimes our mind possibly playing tricks on us. It is well written like all of Farrar’s songs are. This number maybe on its way to becoming a classic.
Son Volt takes a journey into the world of delta blues with Storm (Track 5). This number is flowing with slide guitar and and an acoustic atmosphere to it. Storm is a metaphor for being caught up in a bad place in life that is full of turmoil and unrest. The song goes through instances of excessive drinking, gambling, and womanizing. Very comfortable subject matter for the blues. The premise is that if the protagonist can get to California, the storm will be over and a normal life will commence.
It is difficult for me to fathom that any true fan of alt-country or Americana would not want Notes Of Blue in their collection. While this may not be the best Son Volt album, it is still pretty high ranking. Who knows, after ten more listens, it may be the best. Decide for yourselves.