“No turning back the clock/ There must be hope in this hell/ We fiddle while Rome burns,” howls Jay Farrar in opening Son Volt’s ninth album, Union. Like much of the LP, the song offers a complicated indictment of our times, teetering between outrage, sadness, and hope. It’s Farrar’s most political commentary since 2005’s Okemah and the Melody of Riot.
“I see Okemah and Union as companion pieces in a way,” he attests. “There are times when you feel more like writing about what is going on around you, and this is one of those times. I don’t have all the answers, I just feel like asking some questions and adding to the discussion.”
For inspiration, Farrar and his band, which includes local bassist Andrew Duplantis, set up at both the Woody Guthrie Center in Oklahoma and Mother Jones Museum in Illinois, lending what the songwriter describes as an almost field recording feel to the album.
“Some of the more politically oriented songs, I wanted to make a point to bring those away from the regular recording studio situation, and I feel like those songs benefit from being recorded in the more challenging environment,” offers Farrar. “The idea was to highlight the contributions of those folks and hopefully be inspired along the way, and I think that did happen.
“In times of turmoil, artists need to step up and do their part, and I see it as the tradition of the bard to sing about what’s going on around you,” he concludes. “We have been through worse times, certainly, and we’re dealing with some of the same situations now. But I’m hopeful, and concerned.”– Doug Freeman