After writing a not very positive review of albums released this week by Classic Rock standard bearers Eric Clapton and Bon Jovi I promised that I would be back with some more positive thoughts about other albums released this past Tuesday. Fortunately for me that is not hard to do with a new release from Son Volt as well as the Scottish band Biffy Clyro.
You might well have not heard of either of these artists, neither has achieved widespread success, both bands, however, have produced albums well worth your making the effort to acquaint yourself with them. With the music industry and what is left of radio so fragmented one has to sometimes make an effort to find the music that is worth hearing.
Son Volt was formed in the mid nineties when the seminal alt country band Uncle Tupelo split up. Lead singer Jay Farrar started Son Volt while Jeff Tweedy went on to form the critically acclaimed Wilco. If you are like most people you might well have not heard of either of these bands, those in the music industry will tell you, however, that Tweedy and Farrar are two of the most talented singers and songwriters in music today.
Led by Farrar, Son Volt has released an album of modest ambition that provides a wonderful soundtrack for a sunny afternoon. Where in the past the band has been known to abuse their guitars a bit and make you move your feet, on the new album Honky Tonk all the boys want to do is chill. This makes for some very pretty songs, but nothing that you can really sing along too. The first single, if you listen to an alternative country radio station or more likely XM’s Outlaw Country, is Seawall. Farrrar’s voice is comforting, but could not be called pretty, as he sings that ” there’s a gulf that flows between, and the sea walls wearing down. One suspects we are not talking about water here. On Tears of Change we are told that ” in a world that’s slowly dying, there’s no denying when love walks astray.” The album is pleasant to listen to, I think Farrar is very talented and these songs are, if not tap your foot happy, well crafted. The album’s weakness is that in having such a consistent sound there is nothing that makes any of these songs stand out from one another. For those that enjoy Wilco or another influential alternative country band, The Jayhawks, you will find this album right in your wheelhouse. What Son Volt has not produced is music that is going to open the floodgates with new fans.
Biffy Clyro on the other hand have, with the release of their sixth album Opposites, made it known that they hope to become the next big thing. Led by lead singer Simon Neil the band mixes many influences, if one called them a mix of Snow Patrol and Foo Fighters they would not be far off. Opposites is, in fact, a double album, and in listening to it over the last couple of days I can tell you it is fantastic. In reading about the band I noted that they have in the past released a live album from a concert stop at Wembley Stadium that they headlined a couple of years ago. For those of us who remember Live Aid we know that a band that can fill that stadium must be pretty popular. While that level of success is unlikely stateside a look at Alternative, Modern, and College Rock radio charts tells us that this band is already well known in those circles.
With the current single Black Chandelier playing on Alt radio Neil sings that ” you left my heart like an abandoned car, old and worn and no use at all, ” but proclaims ” that he used to be free.” This album is loaded with tracks that are radio friendly. On Opposite Neil tells a girl ” you are in love with a shadow that won’t come back” and urges her that ” you need to be with someone else.”
The Foo Fighters style guitars contrasting with arena anthem ready lyrics means that Biffy is ready to become well known in America this summer. On Trumpet or Tap Neil snarls out the lyrics ” to prove what I mean to you, show what I mean to you.” The single Biblical sounds as catchy as anything you can find on the radio, almost Dashboard Confessional like, as he urges a love to ” make this biblical.” On Accident without Emergency we are told he is scared of the light and hates the end of the darkness each morning. Perhaps the band can work this song into the next vampire movie that comes out.
This is a big sound and the album is worth finding and listening to. In a music environment that is as unoriginal as it has ever been Biffy Clyro will not leave you bored. With a double album of new songs this is a great introduction to a band that both deserves and seems poised to breakout this year.
Son Volt: Honky Tonk B-
Biffy Clyro: Opposite A-
In our next music review we will be talking about the new album from rising country singer Kacey Musgraves who, incidentally, will be an opening act when Kenny Chesney plays here in Bangor later this summer.