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Jay Farrar

Stone, Steel & Bright Lights – 2004 (Transmit Sound/Artemis)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Jay Farrar

Jay Farrar's biggest problem is that his new thing has always been overwhelmed in some way by his last thing. The finally-recognized brilliance of Uncle Tupelo cast a long shadow across the canon he was trying to build with Son Volt, which was intrusive in its own way on Farrar's solo career when he dissolved the band to go it alone.

This may well be Farrar's attempt to differentiate himself from himself. The live album documents a cross section of Farrar's fall 2003 tour featuring Washington DC country/prog rockers Canyon as both opening act and backing band. The band adds a shimmery expanse to Farrar's solo songs, particularly the mournful "Cahokian," the Neil Young-meets-R.E.M. chug of "Fool King's Crown," and the Dylan-with-a-Mellotron buzz of "Voodoo Candle."

Farrar also offers a couple of new songs - the band accompanied "Doesn't Have to Be This Way" and the stripped down solo acoustic "6 String Belief" - as well as a couple of spacily appropriate covers; Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" and Neil Young's "Like A Hurricane."

It'll be interesting to see if Farrar invites Canyon to record with him in the studio to try to capture their live lightning in a bottle in a controlled atmosphere or if he'll simply move on and reinvent his process yet again. Whatever he decides, after the live majesty of "Stone, Steel & Bright Lights," he won't have to worry about his past crowding into his present.