There’s plenty of directly political content on Son Volt’s new album, Union, but the gently rocking “Devil May Care,” premiering exclusively below, is what group leader Jay Farrar calls “some counter-balance” to the more topical fare.
“I kind of burned out about midway through the recording and I decided that some of the songs needed to embody a more regular rock ethos and be non-topical,” said Farrar, who started Son Volt in 1994 after the break-up of Uncle Tupelo. With “Devil May Care,” he explains, “I was thinking about bands like the Replacements, who would fall off the stage in the first chords of their songs, the Stones, the Who.” Lyrically, he adds, the song channels “the flowery language put on a lot of music equipment packaging– ‘stellar magnetic winding’ from string packages or something, that kind of Guitar Center reality.”
Those lighter moments aside, Union, due out March 29 on Thirty Tigers, packs a potent punch as Farrar comments on present circumstances in songs such as “While Rome Burns,” “The 99,” “The Symbol” (inspired by Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”), “Lady Liberty” and the title track. The band even recorded some of them in symbolically strong locations such as the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla., and the Mother Jones Museum in Mount Olive, Ill.
“I was raised around folk music and political commentary,” Farrar notes. “I’ve listened to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan enough over the years, so it just felt like second nature. I felt it was my job, in a way.I’m a musician, what can I do to potentially help or change somebody’s thinking? What I can do is write, so I did.”
Union is a more straightforward, twangy Americana outing than its predecessor, 2017’s Notes of Blue. After experimenting with alternate tunings and blues styling, Farrar and company have returned to standard tunings, with Chris Frame handling most of the solos. “With alternate tunings the parameters are sort of set for you,” Farrar notes. “With standard tuning you can go anywhere, wherever the inspiration took me. So there’s lot of variety on(Union), which I was happy about.”
Union also comes after the publication of Uncle Tupelo band mate Jeff Tweedy’s memoir “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back),” in which he pulls no punches in writing about his mercurial relationship with Farrar. “I haven’t read it,” says Farrar, who’s also recorded a pair of new Gob Iron songs with Varnaline’s Anders Parker for April 13’s Record Store Day (the duo’s 2006 album Death Songs for the Living is being reissued as well). “People tell me he got some things wrong. The main way it impacts me right now is questions in interviews. It used to be Tweedy questions were number 10, now they come in three or five. But that’s about it, really.”