It's perhaps no surprise that the more stringent of country consumers would not totally approve of what is on offer on an album entitled Honky Tonk. Those with a broader mind will find this far more appetising that some of the more Nashville players on stage today. Me, I think Jay Farrar has always loved this music, even when he moved away from it. These tracks are full of fiddle, pedal steel and tales of heartbreak and heart fixing.
Farrar’s mournful voice is up front and centre and he brings out these songs which, while they may not have you on the dance floor, will have you at the bar or picking the sad songs on the jukebox. You might even pick some of these to play like Wild Side or Tears of Change. "There's a world of wisdom in a fiddle tune" says Down The Highway and indeed the fiddle and steel underscore that sentiment with the song’s Celtic echoes, while Bakersfield pays tribute to all hell breaking loose on a Saturday night in that famed California honky-tonk town.
This is a solid band effort with no producer listed, rather band member Mark Spencer is credited with recording the album and one feels that all seven players credited felt a part of the process of putting it together. The overall mood heads down the darker side of the highway yet the music still heads for the bright lights and the California country music that never relied on the approval of Music Row for its existence which it found that in the fans, in the bars and in the fan’s raised glasses.
Son Volt has been heading in this direction, but this is a fully fledged left turn that finds them electrified and committed. It may be a little too downbeat for some, but as it asks in Seawall "do honky-tonk angels still walk this ground?" and the answer may be that they are certainly flying close to the ground at the very least. Son Volt have made the album they wanted to and as it happens its one that many others will want to hear too.