The Search

Son Volt

Transmit Sound/Legacy, 2007

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Like Guided By Voices during its heyday or the Cowboy Junkies, the arrival of a new Son Volt album is greeted with a welcome but not treated as an “event.” It’s one of the prices a band pays for continuously putting out albums that aren’t departures from its previous releases.

In the case of Son Volt, the band took an extended hiatus in the late 1990s and founder Jay Farrar then resumed Son Volt in 2005 with the release of Okemah And The Melody Of Riot. Even with a virtually new lineup, the album simply sounded like another Son Volt album, meaning solid, straightforward rock with equally straightforward lyrics.

Son Volt’s latest album, The Search, is another in the same vein. It has all the classic Sun Volt elements: Farrar’s grizzled voice, clean, chugging electric guitar and snare-heavy percussion. But on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Search, Son Volt has expanded its sound to include keyboard, organ, horns and other elements (e-bow!). On Son Volt’s Web site, Farrar said “We utilized different instrumentation to fit each song.”

Even with this new palette of instruments, the songs remain solidly rooted in Son Volt’s traditional, country-ish sound. The beautiful opening track “Slow Hearse” recalls '70s-era Neil Young and “Action” has a very Jayhawks/Silos vibe. The new blood doesn’t depart much from the sound of Son Volt’s original lineup, even with the addition of ex-Meat Puppets bassist Andrew Duplantis.

Depending on your mindset, Farrar’s lyrics can either be deliberately simple or borderline country rock cliché, sometimes in the same song. In “Methamphetamine,” Farrar opens the song on a bland note by singing “I took the night shift / Another nickel on the dime / Time to play it straight, make it different this time / Still waiting to meet the next ex-wife.” But he brings the character into three-dimension form with a desperate line like “Would you take me back North Carolina / Would you take me back Arkansas.”

“Phosphate Skin” closes The Search on a quiet, if unspectacular note. In “Highways And Cigarettes,” the second-to-last song, Shannon McNally lends her world-weary vocals to the song and provides a much-needed standout element to the song. A few moments after “Phosphate Skin” ends, you half expect to hear another track if you’re not keeping tabs on what song is on the album. Instead, you’re left with a slight empty feeling, not necessarily wanting more, just a more solid song to end an album.

The Search is a worthy addition to Son Volt’s collection. It opens up enough musical avenues for this version of the band to freely pursue. However, for listeners, it can be a frustrating listen as the songs succumb to samey-sounding country rock, despite the addition of new instrumentation. There’s enough here to reveal new surprises on the fifth, sixth and seventh listens, but The Search’s biggest problem is getting listeners to come back to that second listen.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2007 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Transmit Sound/Legacy, and is used for informational purposes only.