Stone, Steel & Bright Lights
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2004, Volume 11, #7
Written by John Metzger
Ordinarily, a concert recording from a singer-songwriter is simply a means of biding time or fulfilling a contract, and as such, it largely appeals only to an artistís most diehard fans. Jay Farrarís Stone, Steel & Bright Lights, however, is something quite different, and if, as some would speculate, he has alienated a portion of his audience since disbanding Son Volt to embark upon a solo career, then his latest effort is likely to reunite the masses. Thereís little doubt that he rarely has sounded better or more engaged on stage than he does during the 74 minutes of material included here ó all of which was captured last Fall with the country-rock ensemble Canyon serving as both his support act and backing band. Together, the collective successfully strips away the love-them-or-hate-them experimental textures of Sebastopol, ThirdShiftGrottoSlack, and Terroir Blues to reveal a sterling aggregation of Americana-tinged tunes that arenít all that different from the gems that Farrar penned for Uncle Tupelo, and that is undoubtedly a good thing.
The bulk of Stone, Steel & Bright Lights is drawn from this trilogy of solo outings, thereby allowing it to serve as a retrospective of sorts, and although its arrangements fall more along the lines of standard alt-country fare, they do far more than simply take stock of the past three years. Liberated from the claustrophobic confines of Terroir Blues, songs like No Rolling Back, All of Your Might, and Heart on the Ground soar mightily without ever losing the ambient edge of their studio counterparts, while the sunny pop that filled Sebastopol and ThirdShiftGrottoSlack is distilled to its barest essence, leaving tracks like California, Feed Kill Chain, and the setís finest moment Voodoo Candle to hang on the beauty of both Farrarís lyrics and his ensembleís roots-oriented approach. Also featured are two new compositions ó the socio-political statement Doesnít Have to Be This Way and the cathartic, salvation-through-music gem 6 String Belief ó as well as a pair of cooked-to-perfection cover tunes (Pink Floydís Lucifer Sam and Neil Youngís Like a Hurricane). Indeed, itís these latter tracks that provide a hint of the realms that Farrar is attempting to straddle with his restlessness, a point that is only affirmed on Voodoo Candle when he sings, "Caught between/Between two worlds/Donít wanna be/Donít wanna be fenced in" as if his life depended upon it.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box