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Sue Bush
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Charged By A Son Volt: Confessions Of A Practical Blond

By Sharon Leary
05:56AM / Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lindsey Murtagh and Sharon Leary on the town and headed for Pearl Street.
When I awoke Sunday morning, I still had a slight buzzing in my ears, my body ached just a bit, and the smile I'd slumbered with remained.

Saturday night I rocked, rolled, and out-of-controlled at my first live concert of 2007. Son Volt, along with opening act Jason Isbell, performed at Pearl Street in Northampton. It was a big deal for me; I'd given up all hope of ever seeing the Son Volt country-rock group play live. The band was on a hiatus for a few years when lead singer Jay Farrar decided to go solo. But the band reunited in 2003 and has since put out two more albums.

A Strait-Laced Silver Lining

I spotted the concert listing during the weekend I was supposed to be at Mohegun Sun watching George Strait. George cancelled, but the April concert notice delivered a silver lining and a reawakening of dormant excitement.

Jay Farrar of Son Volt
Could it really be the Son Volt? The band I'd carried on my “wish I saw live list” for over ten years? It was, and they had a new album that they were promoting: “The Search”.

I quickly alerted some friends who had similar tastes in music and made plans. I bought my ticket, cause I was going no matter what. The short road trip crew wound up as just myself and friend Lindsey Murtagh. The Washburn brothers bagged us. Their loss.

Lindsey and I hooked up in Northampton early enough to peruse the shops. I bought a hat to add to my collection-and it was so cool, I ended up wearing it that night. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant then pastry at La Fiorentina. Around 7:30 p.m. we headed to Pearl Street.

Pearl Street

I’ve been to Pearl Street concerts on more than one occasion. I watched the Black Crowes perform there back when “Hard to Handle” had just hit the charts. That was the early 90’s. I also saw a couple of one-hit wonder “hair bands” in the late 80’s-Danger Danger being one of them.

Saturday night's crowd was interesting. The mix was diverse, with children obviously under the age of 12, some college students and a bunch of us in our late 30’s and early 40’s all anticipating the music ahead. I was in my element. I felt an amazing vibe and knew that this was going to be a great night.

I’m ashamed to say I had no clue about the opening act. So, I had no idea what to expect of Jason Isbell.

Heart Thumping To A Younger Beat

I was blown away! My mental image was of a lone guy with a guitar - wrong! The 400 Unit, Isbell's band, consisted of Jim Hart on bass, Ryan Tillery on drums and Browan Lollar on guitar. At one point Derry deBorja, keyboardist for Son Volt, sat in with Isbell's band on two songs.

I'd forgotten how much I love guitar players but standing about five feet from the stage, the passion came flooding back. I smiled, even though my age suggests I’m probably a bit too old to be crushing on a guitar player, my heart thumped to a younger rhythm.

Isbell’s set was top notch from beginning to end. He hit the stage and started with “Grown” which just blew me away. Other songs that left an impression included “Try,” an awe-inspiring cover of Patterson Hood’s “Assassins” and “Chicago Promenade.” The song that stayed with me and defined him as a songwriter - fans, pay attention - was “Dress Blues.” The song is about a friend from high school who died in Iraq.

His songs are soulful, passionate and rockin! His music is infused with the musical storytelling that comes from growing up and living in the rural south. His influences range from Neil Young to Prince, to the Beatles to Merle Haggard to Nirvana.

Isbell, who is from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was until recently a member of the Drive-By Truckers. DBT is a rock and roll band. Please don’t call them southern rock, but you can definitely see influences from southern bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd. He joined DBT in 2001 and wrote the title song for the album ”Decoration Day” in his first three days with the group, thereby demonstrating his talent for songwriting immediately.

The set was short, about ten songs, but it definitely left me wanting more. Isbell has a solo album coming out in July, “Sirens of the Ditch” on New West Records. I will own a copy when it is released.

You can sample Isbell’s music now on .

All three songs he has posted were included in his set on Saturday night and are slated to be included on his solo album. You won’t be disappointed.

As we waited for Son Volt to take the stage, I watched in amazement as the guys from the 400 Unit broke down their equipment and lugged it to their van. At this step of the game, you have to do all of the work. It was very cool to bear witness to the humble beginnings of a rock band in its purest form.

The Son Volt Shivers

When Son Volt came on stage, a shiver ran up my spine. Finally. Led by singer/songwriter Jay Farrar (he was also with Uncle Tupelo), the lineup also included Dave Bryson on drums, Derry deBorja on keyboards, Andrew Duplantis on bass and Chris Masterson on guitar.

Masterson joined Son volt only recently. He replaces Brad Rice. Rice was tapped by Keith Urban to play on his upcoming tour. Very nice work if you can get it.

Jason Isbell raised my expectations. I no longer wanted a good concert. I wanted a stellar concert. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Son Volt’s music is a blend of folk, country and rock. They include ballads and blazing guitar infused anthems. Their latest album,“The Search” was released in March.

Classic songs from the critically acclaimed debut album “Trace”- such as “Drown," "Tear Stained Eye" and "Windfall”- complimented songs from “The Search”, such as “Circadian Rhythm," "Adrenaline and Heresy," and Methamphetamine”.

I Remain In Awe

I was able to wriggle to within five feet of Masterson and was mesmerized by his guitar playing. Masterson looks a tad like Ric Ocasek from the Cars. I believe I was watching a true guitar hero. Every few songs, a guitar switch was made. Farrar did the same. You can hear the difference in the melodies and why some guitars are better suited for one song than another.

Farrar was better than I could have ever imagined. I remain in awe as I write this. There were times when I just closed my eyes and listened, it was more important to hear him sing then see the performance. He has a melancholy, all business approach to the songs. I don’t think I saw him break into a smile all night. I,on the other hand, could not stop smiling.

I thought I was being smart by carrying a notebook with me to the show. I scribbled my notes between songs, so I could easily recall some of the amazing show moments. When I sat down to write Sunday afternoon, I forgot that I have chicken scratch for handwriting. So, I put in my Son Volt cd’s and set out to piece together the show.

Because of a head cold and a long ride home, I did not imbibe that evening. And that is probably a good thing; my head-bopping, body-twisting, toe-tapping dance moves would have been considerably more animated, and more entertaining for anyone watching, I'm sure.

Son Volt On Letterman April 18

Pearl Street is located in Northampton. Many popular artists play there. It’s definitely a venue to consider when looking for something to do; Pearl Street is about a one-hour drive from North Adams. You can find a listing of upcoming shows at

As for Son Volt, catch them Wednesday night on Late Night with David Letterman. You can also sample some of the songs that resonate in my psyche on their website

End On A High Note

Jay Farrar is a not only a songwriter for our generation, but he is a poet as well. I’ll sign off with the ending passage of the song “Windfall” from Trace:

“…switching it over to am

searching for a truer sound

can’t recall the call letters

steel guitar and settle down

catching an all night station somewhere in Louisiana

It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven..

May the wind take your troubles away…”

Any wonder why I chose Son Volt to keep me company on my road trip back from Tennessee?

Sharon Leary is an iberkshires columnist and a community health advocate for the Northern Berkshire Healthcare REACH Community Foundation.
Your Comments
Post Comment
Also, if your into Son Volt's musical cousin Wilco, you can catch them on June 24th at Look Park in Northampton.
from: Tim Againon: 04-19 00:00:00-2007

Just wanted to say thanks to Ms.Leary and Sue Bush for helping to expose things that are a little under the corporate radar. In this case, a well written write-up on a truly deserving band.
from: Tim from Adamson: 04-17 00:00:00-2007

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