Facets Of American Life On Display In Trio Of Albums
Son Volt — ‘Union’
THE GOOD: American alt-country/roots rock outfit Son Volt comes back with a politicized ninth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Founding member and frontman Jay Farrar has always flirted with protest music, songs about the working man and various shades of “Americana” since his days with Uncle Tupelo. So the lyrical direction of “Union” isn’t all that surprising, although there’s NO mistaking Farrar’s targets in songs such as “The 99” and “Lady Liberty.” The man has no love for our current presidential administration, and he’s more than happy to sing about his dissatisfaction. The album’s title is even a sly reference to how divided things are in 2019.
Musically, “Union” is typical Son Volt. Focused, forceful rock tracks such as “Devil May Care” and “The Reason” have no problem saddling up next to softer (but no less powerful) country-flavored songs, such as “Rebel Girl” and the title cut. Farrar and his crew haven’t lost one ounce of authenticity across their 25-year existence. The music remains pure.
BUY IT?: Surely.
Mercury Rev — ‘Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited’
THE GOOD: New York indie rock outfit Mercury Rev recreates a landmark album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: In early 1968, singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry released her second LP, “The Delta Sweete,” a concept album about mid-20th-century life in the deep south. Commercially, the record was dead on arrival. Artistically, the work was a triumph and possibly the first alt-country album ever.
Fifty-plus years later, Mercury Rev decided to revisit the whole thing, keeping most of the original track listing intact (only swapping out “Louisiana Man” for a rendition of Gentry’s signature tune, “Ode to Billie Joe”). The guys also hired a bunch of women to handle the vocals. You know them all.
Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, alt-county fave Marissa Nadler, British indie mainstay Beth Orton and others take turns at the mic. Most of the new versions are dark and murky, like the swamplands where the stories take place. And the songs retain their original power and authenticity.
BUY IT?: You must.
Craig Finn — ‘I Need a New War’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn releases his fourth solo outing.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “I Need a New War” completes the man’s trilogy about the unsung heroes of American life — that is, average folks trying to navigate the pitfalls of everyday modern living. Just like the characters introduced throughout “Faith in the Future” (2015) and “We All Want the Same Things” (2017), the people here include unromantic office workers, bleary-eyed travelers, tired women with loser boyfriends and those who wonder when the hell the big party came to a crashing halt.
Finn further differentiates his solo material from the exciting tales found on early Hold Steady records. However, his new stuff is no less fascinating. The guy knows how to tell a story lyrically, and he shows true empathy toward the players involved (thereby practically forcing us to do the same).
Musically, Finn expands the backdrops to include angelic backup vocals and soulful Memphis horns. Sweet.
BUY IT?: Yes.
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