Son Volt's latest album, Honky Tonk, is the highly anticipated follow-up to 2009’s critically lauded American Central Dust.
The album features eleven new Son Volt songs that are inspired by the classic honky tonk sound of Bakersfield. Bandleader Jay Farrar observes, “Honky tonk music is about heartache, heartbreak, the road.” He reflects that as he wrote and recorded the songs so deeply steeped in tradition, “I wanted these songs to sound more contemporary and modern. There was no strict adherence to methodology of the past. You never want to be a nostalgia act.”
Honky Tonk sees Son Volt moving forward on the path of a more acoustic-based sound. Many of its compositions mine a thematic lyrical vein inspired by a traditional country music aesthetic, which Farrar first explored on American Central Dust. Farrar recalls, “I was always averse to using certain words in songs, including ‘love’ and ‘heart.’ But I started using them on American Central Dust, and now I guess the floodgates have opened.”
Indeed, many of Honky Tonk’s songs dwell on affairs of the heart, including the album’s opener, “Hearts and Minds,” a speedy Cajun waltz which assays the delicate balance between love’s steadfastness and its caprice, the plaintive “Brick Walls,” and “Barricades,” which affirms the necessity of pushing forward in the face of overwhelming despair and defeat.
Farrar recalls how his decision to learn a new instrument inspired an intense exploration of honky tonk music: “In the time between Son Volt records, I started learning pedal steel guitar. I play with a local band in St. Louis now and then called Colonel Ford. So I was immersed in honky tonk music, the Bakersfield sound, in particular. And it was almost second nature when I started writing the songs for this record.”
Honky Tonk and Farrar’s forthcoming book, Falling Cars and Junkyard Dogs both continue his ongoing exploration of America’s landscape through the redemptive power of its music. Yet for all its hearkening back to a classic sound, Farrar and company make Honky Tonk feel vital, fresh, and new.