Son Volt
Wed Sept 7
Crystal Ballroom
1332 W Burnside

THERE WAS SOMETHING missing in Jay Farrar's eyes. Check out recent photos of him and you'll see the man looking empty-eyed, wounded. On his solo records it seemed like he felt left behind by the old days, that he needed the hardwood keel and oak rudder of his old band Son Volt to navigate and stay afloat. Solo, Farrar experimented a lot, played around with quiet high-plains-drifting atmospherics, and acted as the sad-eyed alt-country forefather of the lowlands. Where he used to rock, he now sprawled. It was good but not NEAR as passionate.

All that's changed with his brand-new record, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, released as A FUGGIN' SON VOLT ALBUM, his first in seven years. It's not a comeback (besides Farrar, the band's all new) but he sounds revitalized. It's the same kind of righteous heat that made Son Volt so good: rowdy, spirited, politically charged, often—like Springsteen or Woody Guthrie—reeling off grand narratives that seem more short story or Midwest tone poem than song.

Guthrie's ghost hangs over this one. (Okemah refers to Okemah, Oklahoma, Guthrie's birthplace.) Its 12 tracks take wise-eyed Guthrian swipes at war, complacent Americans and the current administration with lava-hot "this machine kills fascists" resolve.

But fetishizing Woody Guthrie is nothing new. Dylan did it. So did Wilco, and so will a bazillion image-conscious guitar-playing man/boy singers 'til the end o' time. But here it feels like Farrar's essaying Guthrie rather than aping the dude—that he's showing us why the kind of high-wire current that ran through Guthrie is still BEYOND needed today.

As 2005 nears its end, we could use something a little more fiery than the escapist, indulgent crap on rock radio, and it's here smack dab in front of us on Okemah. It's right under our big, stuffy, coke-ringed noses... just dangling the keys in front of our bored-ass faces. Question is, do we remember how to drive?