Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., April 19, 2013
Son VoltHonky Tonk (Rounder)
Anyone coming to Jay Farrar and friends' Honky Tonk thinking they've stumbled onto the next Buck Owens or Dale Watson might not be that disappointed. By the same token, any fans looking for state-of-the-art roots rock band Son Volt may want to look elsewhere. Here, the onetime Uncle Tupelo frontman uses country music, heartbreak, and the road as a jumping-off point to fashion something that's informed by the genre, only updated to contemporary standards. That means neo-traditional country as evidenced by the honky-tonk angels inhabiting the tune "Seawall." In many ways, these 11 songs follow the format of past Son Volt discs, taking their cue from Gram Parsons by adding a scuzzy rock & roll edge to a waltz like "Hearts and Minds" or to the shuffling "Bakersfield." "Down the Highway" might be another road song, but it rumbles as wisely and as tightly as anything on Son Volt's debut masterpiece, Trace. In the end, Honky Tonk is a slow burn, Farrar musing on life as scenery flashes past the van window, and the redemptive power of music. "Sad songs keep the devil away," he sings in "Angel of the Blues," and his keening way with words remains just such tonic.