(2019) Union

Son Volt

... read moreJay Farrar has always been a man of the people, at least in terms of his lyrical perspective. Farrar was only 24 when Uncle Tupelo released their first album, but he was already writing about the plight of the working man, the dead ends of life for the average Joe, and the lost souls who turn to...

39′:06″ 13 Songs

1
While Rome Burns
Son Volt
2:14
2
The 99
Son Volt
3:29
3
Devil May Care
Son Volt
2:58
4
Broadsides
Son Volt
3:37
5
Reality Winner
Son Volt
4:33
6
Union
Son Volt
3:39
7
The Reason
Son Volt
3:59
8
Lady Liberty
Son Volt
1:23
9
Holding Your Own
Son Volt
2:59
10
Truth To Power Blues
Son Volt
1:14
11
Rebel Girl
Son Volt
3:15
12
Slow Burn
Son Volt
2:10
13
The Symbol
Son Volt
3:36
Released 29 March 2019, ℗ Transmit Sound

Review

Jay Farrar has always been a man of the people, at least in terms of his lyrical perspective. Farrar was only 24 when Uncle Tupelo released their first album, but he was already writing about the plight of the working man, the dead ends of life for the average Joe, and the lost souls who turn to liquor or religion to fill up the empty spaces of their lives. The less glamorous underside of American life has remained a dominant theme in his songwriting, which suits the plaintive flow of his vocals and his dour melodies, and if he hasn't always dealt explicitly with political matters, the inequality of American society is never far from his mind. So it should come as no surprise that the polarizing reign of Donald Trump and the national malaise that's evolved in his wake would resonate with Farrar, and 2019's Union, the ninth album from his band Son Volt, finds him singing about the specifics of a divided nation in a way he never has before. The elliptical style of Farrar's lyrics often made his themes clear while keeping the specific statement elusive, but Union finds him speaking plainly, at least by his standards, and this turns out to be a mixed blessing. In songs like "While Rome Burns," "The 99," and "Lady Liberty," Farrar pulls no punches about a time and place where most folks don't get a fair shake and justice is not dealt equally. And while he doesn't stray far from his traditionally taciturn delivery, his vocals simmer with an understated passion that speaks of anger and a call for rebellion. However, for every time Farrar sings something pithy and incisive, as in "Reality Winner" and the title track, there's another tune where his sloganeering is a bit too obvious for its own good, and "Rebel Girl" represents some sort of nadir in his catalog, a fawning tribute to some proletarian heroine that includes the flat-out awful line, "That's the rebel girl/To the working class/She's a precious pearl." And while Farrar's latest edition of Son Volt sounds solid and well-unified on these sessions, they fail to give the performances the sense of drama and dynamics they could use. Union closes with one of its best and most powerful songs, "The Symbol," a first-person tale of an undocumented immigrant who helped rebuild New Orleans but now faces deportation, while his children might be sent to Mexico, a place they have never seen. The song is elegant and poignant in its refusal to sentimentalize its story, and if Farrar had another 12 songs just as good, Union could have been a masterpiece. As it is, it sounds like a brave experiment and a sincere effort to explore new creative avenues, but it's a long way from a rousing success. However, its high points leave one hoping that Farrar doesn't stop speaking his peace next time around. ~ Mark Deming