Son Volt Premieres 'Sinking Down' From New Album 'Notes of Blue': Exclusive

David McClister
Son Volt

Son Volt's new album, Notes of Blue, is "a tribute and a chance to connect with icons and heroes" for group founder and leader Jay Farrar.

The 10-song set -- Son Volt's eighth studio release and first in four years, due out Feb. 17 -- is the culmination of a pair of projects Farrar had in motion. "I was working on two different kinds of projects at the same time," he tells Billboard. "A Nick Drake, English folk-inspired project and a more blues-oriented project. Ultimately I felt like there was a commonality of purpose there, a common ethic, especially in terms of finger-picking and alternative tunings being a method with all those guys. So eventually those two projects just merged into one."

The result is an album that has blues at its base -- such as the raw shuffle of "Sinking Down," which is premiering below -- but with ambience and texture that can be heard in tracks such as "Lost Souls" and "Cairo and Southern." "I was aiming for where blues and folk and country music converge," Farrar explains. "Ultimately I see it as kind of folk record and a rock record with elements of the blues -- all of those things. There's even some garage rock thrown in there," such as on the stomping "Cherokee St." and "The Storm."

The "icons and heroes" he sourced for Notes of Blue were Nick Drake, Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell, specifically tapping into those alternate tunings he mentions. "At first they might seem a bit incongruous together, but I felt like there was a certain mystique attached to the guitar tunings and guitar voicings those guys used," Farrar says. "They can open a lot of doors or provide a lot of different avenues to go down. It emanates from looking for ways to be challenged, really."

Farrar was also anxious to strap on his electric guitar again after Notes of Blue predecessors such as 2013's Honky Tonk and 2009's rootsy American Central Dust. "Part of that meant bringing out the old Webster Chicago amplifier I used for Son Volt's (1995 debut) record Trace, the amplifier that's on the cover of that record," Farrar says. "It's a low-powered amp that just delivers a big sound, and I just wanted to revisit the sound of that amp. It sort of represents a quintessential sounding blues amplifier."

Farrar plans to return to standard guitar tuning for his next project, but first he'll be taking Son Volt on the road to support Notes of Blue. The trek kicks off March 2 in Little Rock, Ark., and so far has dates booked into mid-May, including the Stagecoach California Country Music Festival on April 28. The new songs will be fun to play live, he predicts, but Farrar acknowledges that the different tunings will require some coordination with his techs in the wings. "We're going to have some long talks, with charts about what guitars to use when," Farrar says. "It's going to be an adventure."


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