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Charisma be damned, don't sell Son Volt short

Paradise Rock Club, Boston, April 6, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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One could never accuse Jay Farrar of being a charismatic musical dynamo. That's just not been the M.O. of the long-time force behind Son Volt. But only basing an outing of Farrar on the charisma quotient would be selling him and his backing mates short. Very short.

That was the case once again during a show featuring at times muscular, at times bluesy, at times country sounds emanating from the stage during a meaty 100-minute show.

Son Volt's latest, "Notes of Blue," the band's first release in four years, goes for more of a thick, bluesy sound, compared to the Americana/country sounds with which Son Volt has been most identified.

And the emphasis tended to be on the rock and bluesy side to Son Volt ("Static" from "Notes of Blue"), though the Americana edge was in full evidence at varying points as well (perhaps most obvious during "Back Against the Wall").

There was a lot of firepower from the quintet with the songs having a chance to develop and stretch out. Farrar may have seemed a dispassionate front man, but he and his music had something to say for these troubled times.

Mark Spencer was a force whether on pedal steel, giving the material more of a country feel, or keyboards. Chris Frame clicked in with sturdy guitar leads when needed.

Farrar reached back into his days with the seminal Americana band Uncle Tupelo as three of the four songs were from those days. While "Still Be Around," "Graveyard Shift" and "Chickamauga" may go as far back as 1990 (!) at this point, Son Volt made them fresh anew.

Interestingly, a Farrar show has something in common with former band mate Jeff Tweedy's Wilco in that the sum of the songs is greater than the individual parts. There not be a lot of high high points, but Farrar and band were sure and steady while creating musical sparks throughout.

Perhaps in an effort to merge the rock and Americana sides of the band's music, Son Volt closed with a second encore of the Rolling Stones' "Happy" with Spencer's keyboards standing out. They lit up the song sung by Keith Richards for a rousing finale.

Yes, this was not a night long on outward charisma. But when you have a plethora of up to snuff material, that doesn't matter. The music was strong enough to stand on its own.

Anders Parker, who once upon a time was in the band Gob Iron with Farrar, opened with a smart, well-paced set. Playing solo acoustic, Parker changed it up musically, ending with a particularly enthralling guitar-driven number that had a lot of firepower.