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Jay Farrar

SEBASTOPOL (Artemis Records) • Jay Farrar

Even though my father and I weren't close, his death left a hole in me. That's what I thought at first. After a while I realized the hole had always been there. My father's disappearance only enlarged it, making it big enough to really see and, in time, to appreciate. Nothing can fill up that hollow place, but certain things, as they move through it, feel good.

The sound of Jay Farrar's voice is one of those things. He is (was?) the lead singer and guiding force of the band Son Volt, whose three CDs have brought me a remarkable comfort for nearly a decade. Especially satisfying turned up in the truck, Trace, Straightaways, and Wide Swing Tremolo have easily been my favorite driving music, whether it was for days of traveling across the country or just running an errand in town. To me, a lot of those songs seem to be about driving: about having to leave or wanting to, about passing through, about heading toward another place that might be where you belong.

Sebastopol is a solo project that Jay Farrar has been working on during the last few years. (The most recent Son Volt album came out in 1998.) When I read that a solo recording was in the works, I wondered how much it would wind up sounding like Son Volt. Although he has produced a band sound, playing on multiple tracks himself and having various musicians sit in (Gillian Welch and Kelly Joe Phelps among them), it isn't the same as before. It's as distinct as the atmosphere of autumn is from summer. And as with most changes of season, there were aspects I liked right off the bat and some that took a little getting used to. Before long though, Sebastopol became the main soundtrack of this strange October, 2001.

While many fans and critics are eager to focus on his use of a "broader palette," the most significant change seems less external, more to do with where the work is coming from, and where it goes, than how the arrangements were built. These songs move me in an different way than Son Volt does. Rather than entering the familiar hollow place, these new songs reach directly toward what I've found and haven't lost, bringing my attention to what I'd miss most. It's as if, after all these years of driving with Son Volt, I've finally pulled into my own driveway. And there's a moment, before I go inside, when I stop and notice the weather, notice our life as a kind of light that is resting on the ordinary view and revealing its surprising beauty. That's what Sebastopol reminds me of: that moment. It's good to be home.  
• James Meyers

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