Many St. Louis musicians hightail it out of the city as soon as they can, in hopes that the sunnier pastures of Los Angeles or the chillier climes of Chicago will be more welcoming. But except for a short stint in New Orleans, Son Volt founder Jay Farrar has lived in south St. Louis for the past 15 years. And he's not going anywhere.
"St. Louis is still very much a city of immigrants, and that — coupled with distinctive, historic neighborhoods —makes for a good quality of life in my estimation," he says. "I'd rather be where the action is percolating, as opposed to where the action is hyped and purported to be."
That low-key attitude informs Son Volt's latest album, The Search. Released earlier this year, the solid record adds jaunty horns and burbling organ to the band's dusty gentle twang. Farrar and a four-piece band toured heavily around the disc in 2007; Son Volt also released a limited-edition, extended vinyl version of The Search (called On Chant and Strum) and recorded a version of the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" for an ESPN commercial touting David Beckham's arrival in Los Angeles.
Farrar's 2008 calendar looks fairly busy already: a few New York City solo shows early in the year, a spring Son Volt tour and the release of another Gob Iron record. (That band's Anders Parker reminded Farrar to mention a 2007 album fave: PJ Harvey's White Chalk.)
His packed schedule perhaps explains why Farrar goes out of his way to apologize that many of his 2007 favorites weren't released this year. "It usually takes six months for a new record to get to me and then another six months of really letting it sink in, and by then it's often a different year," he says. On his list:
Beck, "Strange Apparition" "It seems Beck is always good to keep things interesting. I like it when he channels songs or artists, and this time it's the Rolling Stones song 'Torn and Frayed' spit back out as an idiosyncratic cautionary tale as seen through the windshield of a Mercedes-Benz."
Lee Hazlewood "Plenty of incongruous instrumentation and lyrical non-sequiturs to ponder. [Son Volt guitar tech] Jason Hutto and I spent the better part of a five-hour drive from Chicago soaking up a Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra compilation. We found out the next morning that he had died the same day we were listening."
Jimmie Rivers, Brisbane Bop "This CD was recorded live by the drummer. Is it western swing or hillbilly jazz? I don't know, but to me it always sounds fresh and intriguing."
Richard Buckner, "Town" "Richard makes good with this lyrical equilibrium-buster, fueled with a looking-back-20-years audio landscape.
Richard and Linda Thompson, Pour Down Like Silver "This was an album when it was released in 1975, and to me it represents the idea of the perfect album. I always listen straight through and often listen to the whole thing twice in a row. The level of musicianship on this record is a marvel. And there is an element of mystery to it, down to the Sufi garb on the front and back covers."