Friday, July 12, 7 p.m.
The Rust Belt, 1201 Seventh Street, East Moline, IL
Jay Farrar’s longstanding alternative rock/country flagship Son Volt plays The Rust Belt on July 12.
At this point, 25 years into its existence, Son Volt has long since outgrown the stereotype of being the other side of the coin to Midwest juggernauts Wilco – though comparisons between the two bands can’t help but continue due to their shared genesis in seminal alternative country band Uncle Tupelo. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Farrar has spread his talents over nine Son Volt albums to date, including this year’s Union, and continually demonstrates his comfort within any number of country rock-adjacent styles: heavy ZZ Top-core highway riffing, moody slide guitar ballads one step removed from outlaw country, and slow-burning rock stompers fit to soundtrack a particularly lit party in a barn on the outskirts of town.
Through all of these styles, Farrar’s voice remains a welcome constant. Though his melodies sometimes rise into a sweeter higher register or meld with his bandmates into layered harmonies, for the most part he sticks to what could be described as an “everyman” vocal style with more neutral melodic arcs that rarely stray into showboating. One gets the sense that he writes songs with the intention that anyone could sing them with a guitar around a campfire, or piled onto the porch with a makeshift band of friends. Even within the context of his heavier rockers, Farrar’s voice tends to hit with a pleasant mid-tempo lilt – the kind of vocal style that needs plenty of space in the arrangement to ring out, to the point that the band often takes a step back and lets him take the spotlight before rocketing back into action for the instrumental passages.
Son Volt’s newest album Union doubles down on many of the tropes that brought the band fame while paring away some of the more rowdy rock energy in favor of slower and more somber songwriting. The title track lopes along with a weary energy informed by the state of world politics, conveyed with Farrar’s admittedly opaque lyrics that pit “rural versus urban” and “red versus the blue” – invoking “the union” in a dual sense of both the Civil War and the current, ever-divided state of America. The slightly more sprightly “The Reason” ambles at a more mid-tempo rocker pace, but never rises above a low roar. The track benefits from some lovely Byrds-esque guitar work that chimes along through close harmonies and descending lead lines. “The Symbol” has a sparse guitar arrangement, but Farrar carries all the weight himself with a heartfelt vocal take with lyrics that speak on behalf of migrants expelled from the U.S. whose children were born in this country.
Though some aspects of Son Volt feel antiquated in the current landscape of rock, the band possesses enough personality and clear passion to make them stand out against a backdrop of more phoned-in commercial fare. Farrar has been trucking along for 25 years, doing his thing, and his dedicated fan base attests to his consistency and his genuine motivations. To remain steadfastly rooted in the realm of singer/songwriter country rock in 2019 is in itself a kind of quietly defiant gesture, and one that resonates with listeners who are still seeking some form of authenticity, however familiar it may be, in the grips of a chaotic world.
Son Volt plays East Moline venue The Rust Belt on July 12 with an opening set by Logan Ledger, admission to the 7 p.m. show is $25-30, and more information and tickets are available by visiting MoellerNights.com.