Son Volt, “Honky Tonk” (CD review)

son volt(recently published in Relix; direct link)

Son Volt, “Honky Tonk” (Rounder)

Jay Farrar continues down the road he traversed with 2009’s American Central Dust on Honky Tonk, Son Volt’s second disc on Rounder. Son Volt—circa now, unlike earlier incarnations—is all about decelerated tempos and a notable de-emphasis on electric guitars.

This one, per the title, is a surprisingly fresh sounding homage to the ‘50s honky-tonk country homegrown in Bakersfield, Calif. Twin fiddles and pedal steel guitars undergird Farrar’s mournful sounding vocals on songs of romance and/or tortured love such as waltz-time opener “Hearts and Minds,” the starting-stopping charmer “Brick Walls” and the downbeat ballads “Livin’ On” and “Angel of the Blues.” The loping “Bakersfield,” naturally, touches on a place and time where one hears the “sound of heartbreak from a jail cell” and “hell breaks loose on Saturday night.”

The bottom line: This album offers appealing neo-retro textures and beautifully arranged songs, some of which are too sluggish and mannered for their own good.

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