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Jay Farrar Heads back to the country for Son Volt's "American Central Dust"

By Brian Baker, July 2009

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When the Wheels Don't Move is another at least partially themed song, inspired by Farrar's general feelings about the state of the economy and the specific results of its downturn and set to a squalling soundtrack that brings to mind the best of Crazy Horse.

"The song was written during a period when gas prices were getting way up there, around $5 a gallon in certain places," says Farrar. "I guess it was the duality of thinking about our country's reliance on fossil fuels and the whole economic structure being built on that."

"But on more down to earth terms, it made me think of bands getting started out, from a musician's perspective. I was thinking, 'How can they do this, going from gig to gig and not being able to put gas in the tank?' I found that a little bit alarming. There's got to be a better way."

"American Central Dust" is the third album that Farrar has put out or worked on with Son Volt during the Bush administration, and like its two predecessors, it often documents the melancholic disillusionment that permeated the country during Bush's final term. But "Dust" was written at the close of Bush's second term and as such offers glimmers of hope for a brighter future.

"The past eight years were a pretty dark period, but these songs were written in the summer of '08. So, I felt it was palpable that there was a mood shift in the country, a sea change almost," says Farrar. "I felt like things were headed in the right direction so I started writing about other stuff. That's what probably led to being inspired to write about Sultana and Keith Richards and things like that. I'm just trying to follow wherever inspiration goes."

In that vein, Farrar doesn't discount a return to his solo career at some point, but right now his focus is on Son Volt's current direction and chemistry, something he feels is evident throughout the songs and performances on "American Central Dust."

"Before we recorded it, we'd been doing shows for about eight months, so this recording reflects the coalescence of the band," says Farrar. "There are some different things going on in this record in terms of interplay; two of the guys (Spencer and Masterson) have more of a soloist sensibility, and I think that sort of represents a change from previous Son Volt records. I guess that's what I like about working in a band context; there's always surprises along the way."

"In doing a solo recording where it winds up that I'm playing a lot of instruments, I quickly become aware of limitations and capabilities. I like the process when there's a whole group working together toward a collective goal and usually surprises and good things happen along the way. So, that's what can be found on the record, and hopefully people can take away something from the CD as a whole."

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