"A project by Jay Farrar" is how the cover
of Sebastopol actually reads. My most likely guess
would be that this little wording would be to dissuade any
rumors of an impending break up of his seminal alt.country-ish
band Son Volt. But this Sebastopol, you ask,
how is it? Why, it is simply amazing. A collection of songs
that seem to have been in use by Farrar for over a year have
finally found their ways onto the shiny plastic music catchers
that we can so easily place in our decks. Boasting a tremendous
list of guest artists, Sebastopol is a project to not
only hear but to experience in its divinity.
"Feel Free" kicks the record off with its dragging
back beat, lo-fi drums and spinning organs. As always, Farrar’s
lyrics leave no room for imagining shortcomings, either. The
world is gonna burn up/4000 years from now/if it doesn’t happen
anytime soon…breathing all the diesel fumes/admire the concrete
landscaping/and doesn’t it feel free. "Clear Day
Thunder" drives a gritty feeling straight into the spine,
with its fuzzed out guitars and distorted drums. It’s got
a bit more of the alt.country feel we would expect, but still
remains a fine departure for Farrar. And listen for that sweet
little acoustic guitar run that nicely breaks the song down.
Caught between/between two worlds/don’t want to be fenced
in. The opening lines of "Voodoo Candle" set
the stage for the jangling guitar-driven anthemic feel of
the song that follows. Possibly one of Farrar’s finest compositions
to date, this song sings with the glory of being alive, and
transcending all that holds the soul onto this blessed earth.
The song is uplifting and glorious, and definitely to be played
at loudest possible volumes. "Barstow" slows things
down to an old-style country speed, and adds the sweet strains
of steel guitar. Gillian Welch makes an appearance,
lending her sweet vocal chords to the already strong song.
The devil bought the key to Branson/drives a backhoe and
wears a gold chain. "Damn Shame" is another
fine song, with its swinging roll of a beat, and its phenomenal
slide guitar playing, really showcasing how far Farrar has
progressed as a guitar player. This song once again makes
the gas pedal drop to the floor, seemingly of its own volition.
Synthesized strings lead us into "Damaged Son",
an aching song, with a small bit of hope. Brother Dade
Farrar guests on this song playing his bowed stand up
bass, which adds a curious depth to the sparse arrangement.
It is wonderful to realize that Farrar has become so confident
in his voice that he can sing a song so light in instrumentation.
"Prelude" is an instrumental track of noisy sitar-like
guitars and dense percussion, lending the impression that
a new section of the album is to begin.
"Dead Promises" brings the record back to a careful
listening pace with its acoustic guitar and string simplicity.
"Feed Kill Chain" is a bit softer than expected
from the demo’s I had heard, but it carries well. Pianos and
strings add a sonic density that almost belies the intensity
of this song, and Beatle-esque bits of sound in the background
really add a new dimension. The song’s strength lies in its
emotional intensity. Another day to face up/another day
to wake up on the feed kill chain. "Make It Alright"
is an acoustic number, with an excellent B-3 organ to thicken
up the sound of Farrar’s tremendous falsetto voice. They
say it takes a mountain to make a difference/catch a second
guess before the big sleep./I know you can make it alright./I
know you’re gonna make it alright. "Fortissimo Wah"
is another short instrumental to offset, and almost disrupt,
the delicate balance of the album at this point, serving as
a breaking point to allow part three to begin.
The slow strains of yearning seep through the notes of "Drain".
Wonderful piano solos compliment the downbeat strums of the
acoustic guitars, enriching the haunting vocals. The entire
song has a macabre feel, as at home in a wake procession as
in a rock hall. "Different Eyes" continues the rocking
folk feel of this segment, but with an amazing progression
that is very edifying and lifts the spirit from the whitely
pallor of the previous song. "Outside The Door"
is an amazing acoustic song, featuring Kelly Joe Phelps
on the fantastic slide guitar he is so famous for. Heard
about circumstances/Heard about the high sheriff from hell./Can
you hear the strum outside the door? The vocals work with
the two guitars and bass to create an incredibly emotional
song, and one of the strongest on the record in light of the
sparse arrangement. "Equilibrium" is the instrumental
that breaks us into the final segment of the record.
"Direction" takes us out of the folk styles and
back to a bit more of a rock album. It is an uplifting song,
with saxophone and accordion to offset the sweetly rolling
backbeat. Completing the album is "Vitamins", with
its almost martial cadence of drums and darkly poignant lyrics.
Set a course for the unknown/stacks of change throw into
the tolls./Rules haven’t changed/it’s just the same garbage
war we’re sitting in./Really not mad at anyone/you’re just
mad at the world./Break it apart and take it down,/it’s mad
at the world. It is once again a dense aural experience
with floating sitars and echoing pianos to create the somber,
yet lifting mood of the song.
Sebastopol is a collection of fantastically well-written
and well-produced songs. Farrar is showcasing how far he has
come from the early days of Uncle Tupelo, with its
uncontrolled noise and spastic energy. Sebastopol reflects
a soul that is much more comfortable in its skin, and much
more knowledgeable of what sounds can be placed where and
For fans of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt this album is a must.
For fans of great songwriting, this record is a must. For
fans of excellent and sometimes off-the-wall production, this
record is a must. For fans of playing guitar like the devil
is on your heels, this record is a must. For fans of country,
rock, country, folk, country, lo-fi distortion-laden pop madness,
this record is a must. For fans of all that is blessed and
great about music from any era and sound, this record is a
must. For fans of records with enough songs to be worth spending
the 15 dollars, this record is a just. This record is simply
My new universal rating scale goes a bit like this: A scale
of 1 to 10, 1 being the record puts me in a state where I
must pull my car off the road to take a nap, and 10 being
I have to stop driving because the album makes me drive so
fast that I receive too many speeding tickets… this record
is a 10! A perfect score for Sebastopol! Go
– David DeVoe
- Feel Free
- Clear Day Thunder
- Voodoo Candle
- Damn Shame
- Damaged son
- Prelude (Make It Alright)
- Dead Promises
- Feed Kill Chain
- Make It Alright
- Fortissimo Wah
- Different Eyes
- Outside the Door
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