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Son Volt

Notes of Blue – 2017 (Transmit Sound/Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Son Volt's "Notes of Blue" is said to be influenced by the blues (among other musical styles), and the blues is most at the fore during "Cherokee St.," a stomping, electric guitar-driven blues rocker. The song has the stripped-down sound of a Blind Willie Johnson sermon, although lead vocalist Jay Farrar is by no means the gravelly singer Johnson was. Still, it has that vibe. Farrar and band mates are just as effective with "The Storm," a more acoustic approach to the blues.

The band sounds more like the freshly electrified Bob Dylan or Dylan-covering The Byrds during "Back Against the Wall." The song is a sort of lyrical preparation for troubled times, where Farrar advises Dylan-like on just what to do and not to do when the sky goes dark. It's like a much more cynical "Forever Young," and it's powerfully effective. The song's towering guitar solos work the same way Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker instrumental flights once propelled "Turn, Turn, Turn."

Although Farrar doesn't site specific examples, his lyrics throughout "Notes of Blue" take on air of a protest album. And with recent national events, one suspects the protest song - like ones inspired by the fight to end the Vietnam War in the '60s - is coming back in style with a vengeance.

Farrar can come off a little too cynical and depressing with his Son Volt music. However, with "Notes of Blue," he is all fired up and inspiring. So, when he sings, "it's always midnight way down in hell," you don't feel like he's speaking to the condemned, but to those still with a way of escape instead when he announces, "You gotta get right with this old world." One's not sure if Farrar is now 'right with this old world.' But on an artist level, Farrer's Son Volt is right where it needs to be.