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Jay Farrar

"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 how.

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 a must.

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 buy it.

David DeVoe

Track Listing:

  1. Feel Free
  2. Clear Day Thunder
  3. Voodoo Candle
  4. Barstow
  5. Damn Shame
  6. Damaged son
  7. Prelude (Make It Alright)
  8. Dead Promises
  9. Feed Kill Chain
  10. Make It Alright
  11. Fortissimo Wah
  12. Drain
  13. Different Eyes
  14. Outside the Door
  15. Equilibrium
  16. Direction
  17. Vitamins

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