Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Album Review / Pop

October 10, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN

*** 1/2 Son Volt, "Wide Swing Tremolo," Warner Bros. Son Volt's Jay Farrar is one of alternative country's big thinkers. Rather than go the easy route and retrace the steps of the Byrds, Gram Parsons and other country-rock forebears who have cast a long shadow over the genre, Farrar has tried to forge an entirely new musical vernacular that ties together neo-traditionalist trappings--rambling tempos, craggy harmonica, clenched vocals, slide guitars--with dense, aphoristic lyrics that are a far cry from country's typical story songs.

It hasn't always worked. On Son Volt's previous two albums, Farrar's world-weariness felt synthetic, and the songs were often emotionally opaque. "Wide Swing Tremolo" is less belabored and more generous than the band's previous work--the downcast narratives remain, but they're offset by bolder musical backdrops.

"Wide Swing Tremolo" makes a good case for Son Volt as convincing rockers, as opposed to just somber faux-troubadours. "Straightface," the opening track, cross-wires junkyard guitar riffage with a majestic chord progression that sounds like R.E.M. at its most arena-rock anthemic. There's also Farrar's usual quota of gorgeous ballads, and some new departures, such as "Dead Man's Clothes," which sounds like a Civil War-era dirge. A passionate, expansive album, "Wide Swing Tremolo" works so well because it doesn't feel worked over.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|