Son Volt, ‘Honky Tonk’ – Album Review
A nod to the 1950s-era sound that came out of Bakersfield, Calif., Son Volt’s seventh studio album, ‘Honky Tonk,’ delivers track after track of old-school country music, with the signature sound and lyrical bent of frontman Jay Farrar.
Opening with a waltz, ‘Hearts and Minds,’ Farrar and company hold nothing back as they take a trip to a world that will be familiar to longtime fans of Son Volt and its precursor, Uncle Tupelo. Packed with fiddles, steel guitars and lyrics like, ‘Though our hearts and minds don’t waver / Waiting for love / That sound of danger,’ the track lays the foundation for what is to come. “The idea for making this record was that it would be a continuation of the pedal steel guitar and fiddle aesthetic that is found on the first song of the first Son Volt record,” Farrar says in an interview for the group’s official Facebook fan page.
That aesthetic is stronger than ever as it pulses through the veins of every tune on ‘Honky Tonk.’ The shortest track on the record, the aptly named ‘Bakersfield,’ includes some wicked pedal steel guitar riffs and lyrics that are even more wicked. “Always a wild wind blowing,” Farrar sings. “Just want a guitar and a radio.” Who can argue with that?
While this record may not be as lyrically complex as past Farrar projects, he succeeds in delivering lines that stick with you long after the turntable stops spinning. In the dynamic ‘Barricades,’ for example, he croons, “By and by, all the threads are sewn / Dark clouds make their presence known / Stand by the fire and just hope that it doesn’t burn out.”
It’s somewhat surprising that the bulk of the record was written within two weeks, but whatever Son Volt did, the album proves to be a near-perfect step forward from their previous effort, ‘American Central Dust.’ On that album, the band seemingly turned down their electric guitars, achieving a tamer sound; here, they’ve all but locked them away.
In ‘Down the Highway,’ Farrar sings beautifully, if not eerily, “There’s a world of wisdom, inside a fiddle tune / Throw this love down the highway, see where it takes you.” Son Volt dive deep into their roots with their latest record, and as Farrar so exquisitely puts it, there’s a world of wisdom in their fiddle tunes.