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A reunion fit for a phone booth

Jay Farrar has reconvened his band Son Volt, but the only familiar face is his own.

January 20, 2005|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

How can one musician have a reunion?

What sounds like a Zen koan actually is the question alt-country rocker Jay Farrar had to answer in coming up with a new record by his old band, Son Volt.

The St. Louis-based musician was all set to reconvene Son Volt, which went on indefinite hiatus nearly five years ago, when the group reunited last year long enough to record a song for the Alejandro Escovedo benefit album, "Por Vida."

"Things seemed to go really well," Farrar, 39, says on a chilly January day from his studio in the birthplace of Chuck Berry. "But when it came time to sit down and work out plans and agreements, things just didn't work out. At the time, it was very upsetting. I really wanted to see it happen. But I subsequently moved on."

In fact, plans for a Son Volt album had gotten so far that it wasn't until the day Farrar and former bandmates Jim and Dave Boquist and drummer Mike Heidorn were supposed to start recording that the reunion fell apart.

"I think what we all failed to realize is that we'd all changed in the course of 4 1/2 years," Farrar says. "We'd all developed different priorities and commitments."

Rather than scotch the whole idea of a new Son Volt album, he simply proceeded minus the Boquists and Heidorn, recruiting guitarist Brad Rice, bassist Andrew Duplantis and drummer Dave Bryson for a new lineup.

So why call it "Son Volt"? Why not just release it as another Jay Farrar album?

"The songs that are going to be on the record in a lot of ways are more melodic and up-tempo than some of the stuff that's been on the previous couple of solo records," Farrar says. "In a way, I'm just getting back to that. The solo records represent an opportunity for me to do something different and experiment in different arrangements and instrumentation.

"Son Volt represent a certain spirit of songwriting with an emphasis on trying to capture what four musicians playing together can do."

The new configuration is slated to play in March at Austin's South by Southwest Festival, then head to Europe for dates in April and May. As for the finished but still untitled album, Farrar hopes to have it released in time for the spring shows.

Farrar started Son Volt in 1994 after abruptly quitting his previous band, the highly regarded folk-punk band Uncle Tupelo. The sudden demise of that group spurred Farrar's songwriting partner, Jeff Tweedy, to start a new band of his own, Wilco.

Farrar generally avoids talking about Tweedy and Uncle Tupelo, preferring to look ahead rather than behind.

"It just seemed like it reached a point where Jeff and I really weren't compatible," he once told an interviewer for No Depression magazine. "It had ceased to be a symbiotic songwriting relationship, probably after the first record."

He did, however, revisit Uncle Tupelo's career in the midst of his solo career for a retrospective compilation that came out in 2002. He's more recently done the same with Son Volt for an anthology that Rhino Records plans to put out this year.

He also has another project nearly ready for release, a collaboration with Varnaline guitarist and songwriter Anders Parker on an album combining reworkings of several traditional folk songs along with a few new numbers.

"It doesn't have a home or a release date," he says, "I'm not even sure what it's going to be called." If he can't find a record label that's interested in releasing the album, he said he'll probably make it available on his website, www.jayfarrar.com.

Parker and lap steel and electric guitarist Mark Spencer are joining Farrar on a round of West Coast shows that brings him to the Troubadour in West Hollywood tonight. He plans to use some of the selections that appeared on his 2004 live album "Stone, Steel & Bright Lights," as well as from his solo studio recordings, including the ambitiously thematic 2003 album, "Terroir Blues," that paints love, loss and regret in sepia shades of Americana folk-rock.

The "Stone, Steel" album included two previously unreleased songs, "Doesn't Have to Be This Way" and "6 String Belief," which, taken together, succinctly outline his continuing faith in the power of music to effect social change.

"I guess I am kind of idealistic in that way," he says, adding a characteristically self-deprecating clarification. "I don't know that my music has the power to effect change, but generally speaking I think [music] does."

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Randy Lewis can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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Jay Farrar

Where: The Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 8 tonight

Price: $15

Info: (310) 276-6168

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