By Chuck Cox
I’ve been looking forward to today for a few weeks now. Why? The new Son Volt album, Honky Tonk, was finally released. And once I downloaded it, I devoured the 11 new tracks from the band that spawned from the breakup of Uncle Tupelo in 1994.
Sadly, Son Volt is one of those acts that kind of flies under the radar. And just like it has done on its previous releases, Son Volt continues to put out incredible music that hooks you in and never lets go. On several of the tracks from the band’s first release since 2009′s American Central Dust, the songs sound like they were written specifically with the title of the album in mind.
That’s especially true of the first three tracks — “Hearts and Minds,” “Brick Walls,” and “Wild Side.” All three sound like they could be blaring out of a Texas honky tonk pretty much any time in the last 60 years, channeling Buck Owens, Hank Williams and George Jones to perfection. Front man Jay Farrar’s voice is incredibly soothing and suited to that steel guitar sound. “Bakersfield” is another standout track in that vein that sounds like it be right at home on any Dwight Yoakum album. I also really like “Seawall,” which asks if “honky tonk angels still walk this ground?”
The rest of the album is more of the pure Son Volt sound. And it really does show off the band’s versatility. “Livin’ On” and “Angel of the Blues” are both the kind of tunes that first attracted me to the band. And I would include the group’s debut album, Trace, on any best-of list. Son Volt doesn’t know how to make a bad album, but that one is an absolute must-own. With just one listen, I think Honky Tonk can hold its own in the band’s catalogue. And that’s saying something.
With a lot of bands, a new album has to grow on me a little bit. It seems like each time Son Volt puts something new out, I love it on first listen. And it just continues to get better and better each time I hear it. The band is playing Sons of Hermann Hall on April 20. I’m hoping to make it to that show, but I might end up having to miss it. I have seen Son Volt three times, and it’s definitely a band well worth your time to go see play live. Whether you can make that show or not, pick up the new album.