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"There are only two kinds of songs," Townes Van Zandt said, well before he died. "There's the blues, and there's zip-a-dee-doo-dah." The new Son Volt album is titled Notes of Blue.
Simple as that, maybe.

Just now pushing fifty, Jay Farrar, the creative force behind Son Volt, is still not as old as his voice. Not nearly. His singing voice, an ageless gift which sounds something like old timber looks, like the unpainted walls framing Walker Evans' best portraits from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: simple, durable, weathered and grooved and unplanned.


Notes of Blue will be the twentieth album — including a couple live releases and two movie soundtracks — to which Farrar has lent his voice and songwriting.

He is not quite a famous man, which is probably a comfort except when bills need paying. Plenty praised, though, from the moment his first band, the influential Uncle Tupelo, recorded a punked-up version of the topical Carter Family song " No Depression," and named their debut album after it. Photographed for magazine covers, including the inaugural edition of No Depression magazine, which argued for the arrival of something called alt-country back in 1995, when Son Volt's first album, Trace, came out.

To be clear, Notes of Blue is not the blues of appropriation, nor of beer commercials, nor especially of the W.C. Handy awards. It is the broader blues of the folk process, where they have always lived, irrespective of culture and caste. The blues as one of many languages available to shape and recast as the song needs. The blues as a jumping off point.

Or, as Jay says, " For years I've been drawn to the passion, common struggle and possibility for redemption that's always been a part of the blues. Everyone has to pay the rent and get along with their significant others, so many of the themes are universal. For me, the blues fills that void that's there for religion, really. That's the place I turn to be lifted up."

The possibility of redemption.

"There will be damage, and there will be hell to pay," he sings on the opening track " Promise the World" . " Light after darkness, that is the way."

The bleak prospect of redemption, he sings on the first single, " Back Against the Wall" : " What survives the long cold winter/Will be stronger and can't be undone."

Quintessential Son Volt. Tough, solitary, unflinching.

"There's always a threat of darkness on the horizon," he says. " There's also a path to a better way inherent in the blues."

And if that echoes the plaintive words of a long-gone hillbilly singer, there's no accident in that. " Hank Williams is really the key," Farrar says. " He showed us that the blues as a music form was an integral part of country music early on."

For Notes of Blue, Farrar's notion of the blues focuses on specific guitar tunings, courtesy Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Nick Drake. And on the structure of the songs themselves – repeated lines, a few phrases borrowed from older blues. Both provided entry points to his new songs.

"To me there's always been a mystique attached to those three tunings and those three performers," Farrar says. " So I was compelled to get inside those tunings and see what was there. Skip James' tuning in particular, supposedly has its origins in the Bahamas, it's a D-Minor tuning, so it has built into it kind of an intangible haunting effect. Something you can't quite put your finger on but it's there."

Those entry points mean that Notes of Blue features far more fingerpicking than previous Son Volt albums, and even (a nod to Fred McDowell), the bellowing, rambunctious slide of " Static."

"All of that was the target," Farrar says with his wry, concise clarity, " but the arrow landed somewhere between Tom Petty and ZZ Top."

Add one more piece, the almost feral blues of the George Mitchell field recordings. " All the performers are unheralded," Farrar says, " and yet compelling."

Belleville (where Uncle Tupelo grew up) is not St. Louis is not Ferguson, but we in flyover country are by now accustomed to our role in the greater society. We provide wheat and corn and fuel, a migratory labor force. The occasional spectacle.

And yet Jay Farrar seems nearly at peace with all of it. " Yeah, there's a glimmer of hope," he says. " What I get from the blues is that there's a chance for redemption.Whether this record achieves that is anyone's guess."

Since launching his recording career a decade ago, Justin Townes Earle

has established a reputation as a singular leading light in the Americana

music community.  With fearless, personally charged lyrical insight and

infectious melodic craftsmanship, the young veteran singer-songwriter has

built a rich, personally charged body of work.

Now, on his seventh album (and New West debut) Kids in the Street, Justin

Townes Earle raises the creative and personal stakes to deliver a deeply

soulful set that's both emotionally riveting and effortlessly uplifting.  Taking

himself out of his creative comfort zone and assembling a new set of

collaborators, Earle has created one of his most potent efforts to date,

reflecting all manner of new influences upon his life and his art.

"Life has changed a lot for me in the last few years," Earle reflects.  "I got

married and am getting ready to become a father, and this is the first record

that I've written since I've been married.  There's definitely an uplifting

aspect to this record in a lot of ways, because I'm feeling pretty positive.

"When I wrote songs in the past," he continues, "I was looking in on what I

was feeling, but this record's more about looking outward on what's

happening, and writing about subjects like gentrification and inner city

strife.  This record also has more of a soul influence to it, and it's got a

deeper connection to the blues than anything I've done before."

Earle's current level of inspiration is apparent throughout Kids in the Street,

on which such tunes as "Champagne Corolla," "Maybe A Moment," "Faded

Valentine" and the haunting title track paint vivid, vital portraits of

characters at the mercy of forces beyond their control.  Elsewhere, Earle's

personalized update of the trad blues number "Stagalee" recasts that

outlaw classic in modern terms, and his reading of Paul Simon's

"Graceland" (included here as a bonus track) locates the gospel/blues

number that's always been at the song's heart.

Several of Kids in the Street's songs reference the lower-middle- class

Nashville neighborhoods of Earle's youth, which in recent years have lost

their character to the creeping scourge of gentrification.

"Nashville has really changed for the worse, and it's not the same place it

was," Earle notes.  "The song 'Kids in the Street' is about that, and uses the

names of streets in the neighborhood I grew up in.  So does 'Stagalee.'  My

mom left the neighborhood long ago because of gentrification.  And where

she lives now is now the new site of gentrification; her property taxes have

gone up to where she can't afford.  I don't know where the hell she'll move

to next, because there's no more working-class neighborhoods in


Kids in the Street is, significantly, the first Justin Townes Earle album not

recorded in Nashville.  Instead, he cut the songs at TK in Omaha,

Nebraska with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley), who helps to

lend the album a distinctive sonic sensibility that's well suited to the songs'

lyrical immediacy, and which brings out the best in Earle's heartfelt


"It's the first time that I've worked outside of my usual umbrella of people to

make a record," Earle explains, adding, "In Nashville, if you have the right

connections, it'll spoil the shit out of you, because you've got access to the

best musicians in the world and the best studios in the world.  If you had

told me when I started making records, that I wasn't gonna make every

record in Nashville, I would have told you you were crazy.  And if you'd told

me that I'd end up making a record in Omaha, I'd tell you you were out of

your freaking mind.

"I brought Paul Niehaus, who's been my guitar and steel player for about

seven years, with me, but otherwise I used all local players," Earle says of

the Kids in the Street sessions.  "There was a part of me that was not

completely comfortable with using musicians I'd never heard of, but overall

it was a positive thing to get out of my comfort zone.  Normally I like to stick

with my people; I've had the same engineer on every record, and the same

photographer for every publicity picture.  So it was a bit of a challenge to

put my trust in someone who captures sound in a different way.  But it

worked out really well.

"Mike has a great sensibility about him, and there's something really

serious about the way he does it, but at the same time there's a

lightheartedness in the way that he crafts music.  It required some sitting

back on my part, which took some effort, but it turned out to be great.  We

did all of the vocals and basic tracks live, which almost nobody does these

days, but that's the way I like to work because it keeps it organic."

Mogis echoes Earle's sentiments. "I really didn't know what to expect

heading into the session with Justin," he says. "I had heard that he could

be a little difficult and unpredictable, but what I found was just the

opposite.  He kept the mood light, and always had something witty to say.

 He was curious and open to almost any suggestion.  The band gelled

quickly with him, so that led to a relaxed creative environment.  The

process of making this record was a lot of fun, and it was refreshing to work

with an artist who wants to get the performance right.  Neither Justin nor

the band did a single punch or overdub.  Justin is a guy who is deeply

passionate and knowledgeable about music and its lineage, and his brain is

like a musical encyclopedia.  I learned a good deal of music history from


Kids in the Street's songs are the product of an extended break from

recording, during which Earle spent time living in New York City and

northern California, before moving to his current home base of Portland,


"It ended up taking a lot longer than I thought it would," he says.  "About

halfway through that, I decided to just go with it and to believe that's just

what these songs needed.  It was definitely more of an intensive writing

process, getting everything just how I wanted it to be.  For the last year of

that process, I was living in northern Mendocino County, right on the water,

and there's nothing to do around there but write.  So I had the time to take

to do that.  But after a year there, it was a little too slow, so Portland here

we come."

Earle's fierce fidelity to his creative muse has been a consistent thread

throughout his young life.  Born in Nashville on January 4, 1982, he grew

up as the son of country-rock iconoclast Steve Earle, who gave him his

middle name in honor of the great Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

Justin quickly came into his own as a songwriter and performer, displaying

a natural talent for deeply revealing lyrics that reflected his often-harsh life

experiences, and a musical approach that effortlessly integrated elements

of blues, folk and country.  His 2007 debut EP Yuma set the stage for a

steady stream of acclaimed albums: The Good Life (2008), Midnight at the

Movies (2009), Harlem River Blues (2010)), Nothing's Going to Change the

Way You Feel About Me Now (2012), Single Mothers (2014) and Absent

Fathers (2015).  In the process, he built a large and devoted fan base that

continues to support his work.

Now embracing marriage, sobriety and impending fatherhood, Justin

Townes Earle is enthusiastically looking to the future.  "I can't say if I'm

getting better, but I'm definitely evolving as a songwriter," he states.

 "That's my goal, to soak up new things and be aware of seeing life from a

different point of view.  The only thing I hope is that, in some shape, form or

fashion, each record I make is better than the one before."
Since their formation in 1994, Toronto's Sadies have developed, even perfected, a style of music that is uniquely their own. Possessing a deep fondness and reverence for the best of country, bluegrass and blues (CBGB!), they are equally informed and influenced by everything from 60s garage and psychedelic rock (Pebbles, Nuggets, et al) to surf instrumentals and punk rock. You're as likely to find an enthusiastic fan of Negative Approach or Crime as one of Santo & Johnny or Merle Travis within their ranks. It's all relevant and it all fits and that sort of depth goes a long way in helping to understand how they came to develop such a broad platform from which to launch their own musical explorations.

Through a trio of brilliant albums that began with 2002's "Stories Often Told", 2004's "Favourite Colours" and 2007's Juno Award nominated, "New Seasons" – they finally topped themselves with 2010's "Darker Circles" an accomplished album that received a Juno Award for Best Video and was short-listed for the 2011 Polaris Prize. "Darker Circles" was a departure from their previous releases, which despite having some fairly, er, dark themes and subject matter, resonated strongly with fans and critics alike. It stands out as the most fully-realized song cycle from the group – until now.

September 17th, 2013 will see the release of "Internal Sounds" an album that heralds a new level of achievement for The Sadies. This was largely due to refusing to be pressured by any deadlines but their own, taking their time over a period of nearly a year to get everything "just right" and using up every resource they had and every favour they could call in. "Internal Sounds" marks the first time Dallas Good has assumed the producer's role and this helped craft a record that is the closest the band has yet come to capturing their sound on an album. Vocals are clear and prominent, guitars are positioned high in the mix and the album has a tone that is overall fuller and richer. Some key assistance was provided by Peter J. Moore (mixing/mastering) and Gary Louris (who has produced much of the bands past work) with some vocal coaching and control room refereeing. The resulting album greatly benefits from all of these considerations and is by far the most confident and assured of their career. The final track features an amazing vocal performance from Buffy Sainte-Marie that is a thrill to hear and a fantastic way to finish off the record.

The numerous collaborations that the band has been involved with over the years have resulted in some of the most surprising and fun work they've done. These feature a tremendous range of artists from expat British punk rockers (Mekons' Jon Langford – "Mayors of The Moon" Album), L.A. troubadours (John Doe, formerly of X – "Country Club"), old timey R&B masters (Andre Williams – more on him later), to up and coming alt-country starlets (Neko Case "The Tigers Have Spoken" many tours and contributions to many of her solo albums). They've also worked extensively with ex- Pussy Galore founder and current Jon Spencer Blues Explosion frontman Jon Spencer's "Heavy Trash" project with NYC guitarist Matt Verta-Ray – they've backed Matt and Jon extensively on tour and played on much of their "Going Way Out With Heavy Trash" album as well. There's hardly ever been a band as versatile and adventurous as The Sadies which is why they don't have too many peers with that kind of track record.

When Garth Hudson, organist with the Canadian rock institution, The Band, put together an all-Canadian collaboration album recently he leaned heavily on The Sadies, who, in addition to contributing their version of "The Shape I'm In", backed the much-loved Mary Margaret O'Hara on her contribution "Out Of The Blue". They also played with Neil Young on his rendition of "This Wheel's On Fire". This ultimately led to being invited to open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse all across Canada in late 2012.

The Sadies have also recently performed live on several occasions with former Guess Who founder and Canuck songwriting legend Randy Bachman where they were thrilled to get a chance to perform some of their own favourite super-obscure Guess Who songs with the man himself. Of The Sadies, Bachman has this to say; "It's quite different when I play with The Sadies than when I play with anyone else. I love the stand-up bass, it gives an incredible gigantic bottom end sound. I think the two brothers Dallas and Travis are just amazing guitar players. They've got their own cool identity".

The band continues to enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with 50s R&B legend Andre Williams. In 2012 the excellent "Night and Day" album was released to much acclaim. Previously they'd put together a country album with
him, "Red Dirt" which was a blast for all involved and saw the band do several memorable gigs with Mr. Rhythm throughout the US & Canada before heading off to Europe for a well-received month-long tour playing the classic hits as well as a lot of the new material. Andre once said "You cannot find a better bunch of characters, men or musicians than The Sadies".

Growing up in a musical family served the Good siblings well. Being the sons of noted Canadian country music icon Bruce Good and their singer / schoolteacher mom, Margaret and hanging out around their "Good Brothers" extended family, they learned a thing or ten about music. This helped them foster the broad appreciation and respect for the best of bluegrass, country and gospel that has continued to serve them well from an early age. Just this year saw the release of the Good Family Album via the Cowboy Junkies' Latent Recordings label. The album features Dallas, older brother Travis, Cousin D'Arcy on fiddle and vocals, Mom, Dad & Uncle Larry (2/3 of the Good Brothers) as well as the rest of The Sadies. Everybody sings, everybody plays and it's a diverse and entertaining collection of songs. No Depression raves "I almost defy you to listen to this album and not find yourself continutally gawping at the quality on display. A high-water mark for North American (not just Canadian) music."

The Sadies have consistently pushed themselves forward into new areas while refining their approach to what they do – creating a constantly evolving catalogue of work and picking up legions of new converts with each successive tour. Their concerts, legendary since their earliest days have only gotten better over the years. Though the three-hour marathons of yore may happen less frequently, The Sadies have always prided themselves on a well-paced live show, starting off strong and gradually building things up to fever pitch then bringing it back home (often with a nice surprise or two along the way), before sending everyone home with a smile on their face. The live experience has it all, blistering instrumentals, country rave-ups, super-human guitar interplay and mind blowing psychedelic expeditions that can end up anywhere. There are not many bands that have been together nearly two decades that are truly making the best music of their careers, but The Sadies have definitely established themselves as one of the leaders in that very uncrowded field.

These fellows thrive by a simple rule, if you make a mistake in the studio, you do it over – but you don't make mistakes onstage. The live show has to do everything the records do (just a little faster and a little drunker). They're ready to hit your town in support of the release of the remarkable new album "Internal Sounds" this fall. If you've never seen them live, the time to change that is now – if you've seen them before, it's time to take another look. And buy yourself a copy of "Internal Sounds" it might end up being the best record you'll hear this year!

~ Greg Dinwoodie, friend

July 2013
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