Record Review - 1 October 10 2001

Easier to admire than enjoy, Son Volt's three No Depression-approved albums were inconsistent affairs. Brimming with promise after their universally lauded 1995 debut, Trace, Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo outfit followed with a pair of patchy releases mining the same mopey country/folk/rock singer/songwriter vein. His band currently on "hiatus," Farrar's first solo stab, recorded more than a year ago but released last week, sounds not surprisingly like the next Volt project.

Once you get past the sad-sack moan/drone vocals, Sebastopol — inexplicably named after a city in Northern California — attempts a unique approach with its opening one-two punch: "Feel Free" features swampy drums punctuating a repeated organ riff (from the Flaming Lips' Steven Drodze); subtle prog elements give "Clear Day Thunder" the feel of something off Guadalcanal Diary's later work.

But then it's back to business as usual. The songs start sounding similar both to one another and to Farrar's previous work, with only the occasional dab of psychedelia to distinguish them from anything on other spotty Son Volt affairs. Clunky lyrics sung with typical weight-of-the-world weariness are stuffed into meandering, alternate-tuned, chorus-free melodies.

None of which would be bad or particularly disappointing if it were reserved for filler between music as transcendent as that on Trace. But little here has the power, glory or emotional pull of even the weakest songs from that album, making Sebastopol an adequate — but hardly a landmark — chapter in Jay Farrar's increasingly formulaic career.

Jay Farrar plays Fri., Oct. 12, at the Variety Playhouse??