Son Volt - Presented by KRCL

Son Volt - Presented by KRCL

sera cahoone

Wed · May 10, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

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Son Volt
Son Volt
“There are only two kinds of songs,” Townes Van Zandt said, well before he died. “There's the blues, and there's zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” The new Son Volt album is titled Notes of Blue.

Simple as that, maybe.

Just now pushing fifty, Jay Farrar, the creative force behind Son Volt, is still not as old as his voice. Not nearly. His singing voice, an ageless gift which sounds something like old timber looks, like the unpainted walls framing Walker Evans' best portraits from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: simple, durable, weathered and grooved and unplanned.

Unplanned.

Notes of Blue will be the twentieth album — including a couple live releases and two movie soundtracks — to which Farrar has lent his voice and songwriting.

He is not quite a famous man, which is probably a comfort except when bills need paying. Plenty praised, though, from the moment his first band, the influential Uncle Tupelo, recorded a punked-up version of the topical Carter Family song “No Depression,” and named their debut album after it. Photographed for magazine covers, including the inaugural edition of No Depression magazine, which argued for the arrival of something called alt-country back in 1995, when Son Volt's first album, Trace, came out.

To be clear, Notes of Blue is not the blues of appropriation, nor of beer commercials, nor especially of the W.C. Handy awards. It is the broader blues of the folk process, where they have always lived, irrespective of culture and caste. The blues as one of many languages available to shape and recast as the song needs. The blues as a jumping off point.

Or, as Jay says, “For years I’ve been drawn to the passion, common struggle and possibility for redemption that’s always been a part of the blues. Everyone has to pay the rent and get along with their significant others, so many of the themes are universal. For me, the blues fills that void that's there for religion, really. That's the place I turn to be lifted up.”

The possibility of redemption.

“There will be damage, and there will be hell to pay,” he sings on the opening track “Promise the World”. “Light after darkness, that is the way.”

The bleak prospect of redemption, he sings on the first single, “Back Against the Wall”: “What survives the long cold winter/Will be stronger and can’t be undone.”

Quintessential Son Volt. Tough, solitary, unflinching.

“There's always a threat of darkness on the horizon,” he says. “There's also a path to a better way inherent in the blues.”

And if that echoes the plaintive words of a long-gone hillbilly singer, there's no accident in that. “Hank Williams is really the key,” Farrar says. “He showed us that the blues as a music form was an integral part of country music early on.”

For Notes of Blue, Farrar’s notion of the blues focuses on specific guitar tunings, courtesy Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Nick Drake. And on the structure of the songs themselves – repeated lines, a few phrases borrowed from older blues. Both provided entry points to his new songs.

“To me there's always been a mystique attached to those three tunings and those three performers,” Farrar says. “So I was compelled to get inside those tunings and see what was there. Skip James' tuning in particular, supposedly has its origins in the Bahamas, it's a D-Minor tuning, so it has built into it kind of an intangible haunting effect. Something you can't quite put your finger on but it's there.”

Those entry points mean that Notes of Blue features far more fingerpicking than previous Son Volt albums, and even (a nod to Fred McDowell), the bellowing, rambunctious slide of “Static.”

“All of that was the target,” Farrar says with his wry, concise clarity, “but the arrow landed somewhere between Tom Petty and ZZ Top.”

Add one more piece, the almost feral blues of the George Mitchell field recordings. “All the performers are unheralded,” Farrar says, “and yet compelling.”

Belleville (where Uncle Tupelo grew up) is not St. Louis is not Ferguson, but we in flyover country are by now accustomed to our role in the greater society. We provide wheat and corn and fuel, a migratory labor force. The occasional spectacle.

And yet Jay Farrar seems nearly at peace with all of it. “Yeah, there's a glimmer of hope,” he says. “What I get from the blues is that there's a chance for redemption. Whether this record achieves that is anyone's guess.”
sera cahoone
sera cahoone
Sera Cahoone is a long way from home. Growing up the daughter of a dynamite salesman in the Colorado foothills, she got her start on the drums at 11. A year later, her skills had become so promising, her mom started taking her to dive bars to sit in with the scruffy old bluesmen. By the time she even picked up a guitar, she had been so shaped by these things – the dynamite, the blues, the woods and the hills – it's no surprise she went on to earn a reputation as one of the strongest songwriters in Seattle's ever-vibrant Americana scene.

She moved north in 1998 to open a snowboard/skateboard shop but quickly found herself backing lo-fi outfit Carissa's Weird on drums. Since that band split in '03, she's lent her sticks to folks as variant as Carolina rockers Band of Horses, Seattle blues chick Betsy Olson, and singer-songwriter Patrick Park. But in 2006 she struck out on her own with a self-titled debut which immediately scored praise from local and national tastemakers alike.

Six years later (four since her widely acclaimed Sub Pop debut Only as the Day Is Long), Cahoone is readying the release of her third solo effort – an album which sees her ruminating on the gravitational pull of home. Titled for the Colorado canyon where she came of age, where her mother still lives, Deer Creek Canyon delves deeper and sees her voice remarkably stronger than on her previous albums.

Though some of the songs predate her move to Seattle, (she started writing "Naked" when she was 20 and finished it just before they hit "record"), it's hard to miss the running themes of home. "My brother and my sister both left and now they've gone back home," she sings on the title track. "Deer Creek Canyon's where I'm from and it's where you are still."

Rather than expound from there, she leans back and lets the music take over, Jeff Fielder's guitar rooting strongly to the melody's foundation. Even the music isn't sure about wandering far from home.

Sentimental, yes, but straight-forward. Where her previous efforts explored the complicated throes of dark emotions, this album is more richly focused. Home is even present in the more personal songs struggling with various facets of love and friendship ("Worry All Your Life", "Shakin' Hands").

"I get really homesick and think about moving back to Colorado," she admits. "But, I've matured a lot. I took a very long break to write this record. I didn't care how long it took. Once these songs started coming together, I knew I wanted to take my time with this one. I wanted to get it right, focus more on production, and make sure all the sounds and vocals were pushed even higher."

So, she co-produced the disc with Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver). Recording began in Feb. 2012 at Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, Wash., then headed to Monahan's studio in LA for finishing touches. True to her sensibilities, she enlisted the talents of her long-time live band – Jason Kardong, Fielder, Jonas Haskins, Jason Merculief, Sarah Standard – plus Tomo Nakayama on piano and organ, and Emily Ann Peterson on cello.

All these things contributed to Cahoone singing from a firmer foundation this time around, trusting the simplicity, bending against the elements like those trees in Deer Creek Canyon. Listen closely, you start to get the feeling. . . the music itself feels like home.
Venue Information:
The State Room
638 South State Street
Salt Lake City, UT, 84111
http://www.thestateroomslc.com/