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Son Volt plays it steady, while Jason Isbell proves sturdy

The Paradise, Boston, April 15, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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A few differences are quite apparent on Son Volt's new disc, "The Search." One of the pioneers of the alt.-country movement, the band led by lead singer Jay Farrar incorporated horns into several songs. That was unexpected, but it proved to be a chance to mix it up musically.

The same can't be said for the quintet in concert before a packed club, but that did not mean the concert lacked for high quality.

Farrar is the front and center of Son Volt, and that is for better and worse when it comes to performing. He has a sturdy voice, easily heard above the music, which rocked far more than it veered towards country, although there were also rootsy elements to the show. He often holds and bends notes to good effect in a voice that is easy on the ears.

There is an easy-going flow and pace to a Son Volt show, largely in part due to Farrar. He is a definitely a laid back performer, sometimes to a fault. He talks a bit to the crowd, thanking them for coming out on a not great night weather-wise, but never using the front man's abilities to transform the set through any sense of charisma.

Farrar has not changed over the years - the laid back aspect has been part and parcel of who he is.

And fortunately Son Volt has lots of strong material to work with, playing many songs from "The Search," starting with "Automatic Society" and "Satellite." In fact, the emphasis on "The Search" was quite strong with seven of the first eight songs being from the disc.

Son Volt closed the set with catalogue chestnut "Drown" and "Afterglow 61" before returning for a three-song encore to the 100-minute show with "Chickamauga" from Farrar's Uncle Tupelo days ending the evening.

The playing of the quintet also was strong, particularly newcomer Chris Masterson on guitars, who often infused the songs with a lot of bite. Drummer Dave Bryson set a good beat, while keyboard man Derry DeBorja supplied many good fills, often underneath.

Son Volt is not going to overwhelm anyone looking for a big show and over-the-top staging. But, sometimes, a steady as you go approach works just fine.

Opening act Jason Isbell turned in a very strong set. Isbell just departed the Drive-By Truckers, and no doubt his road experience with the Truckers paid off when it came to going the solo route and putting together a concert.

The guitarist/lead singer mixed songs between his Trucker days and a forthcoming solo disc, due in July on New West. Isbell proved to be a very steady axe man and got enough vocal chops as well, although that will probably develop more with experience.

Isbell opted for perhaps a more rocking sound than his previous band, although there is not a huge difference. What was different was a good cover of Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak." Isbell made the most of his 50 minutes. This was a set that built over the long run, earning Isbell a well-deserved strong response.