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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Farrar makes listeners hardly remember Son Volt

The Knitting Factory, West Hollywood, Cal., Feb. 2, 2002

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - When Jay Farrar walked on stage with only an additional guitarist as his band, doubts were immediately raised about the alt.-country icon's chances of ever replicating the full and complicated arrangements from his solo debut "Sebastapol" in this live setting.

But because that 'additional guitarist' turned out to be Mark Spencer, such doubts were quickly melted away.

While Farrar concentrated on his steady rhythmic acoustic guitar playing, Spencer switched from electric, to acoustic to piano, whenever the song called for a dramatic change of color. Think of him as the Hawaiian print shirt, contrasting with Farrar's plain work clothes.

He shone brightest when assisting on lap steel guitar, especially when Farrar reached back for "Tear-Stained Eye" from the Son Volt "Trace" album. Spencer sent tearful notes echoing all over the club, making this a real moment of musical beauty.

Farrar picked and chose from all three Son Volt albums, such as "Dead Man's Clothes" from "Wide Swing Tremolo" and "No More Parades" from "Straightaways," in addition to covering most of the material from his solo album.

The sound was particularly good this night, making almost every syllable out of Farrar's twangy throat audible. Farrar is not what you might call a pretty singer, but he has the kind of authoritative tone that forces you to hang on every word from his lips. His lyrics, though rarely linear, are filled with numerous hints and clues that somehow end up making logical sense, or at the very least, they amount to a good mental mystery. It may be blasphemy to say this, but because of Spencer's large impact, the rest of Son Volt was hardly missed at all tonight.

The show was opened by Brian Henneman, taking a break from his regular gig as the leader of The Bottle Rockets. In stark contrast to the brainy lyrical exercises of Farrar's lyrics, Henneman has a simple and straightforward every man quality about his writing. When he sang about a brokenhearted woman in "Smokin' 100's Alone," everybody in the place could picture somebody they know who is just like her.