Jay Farrar’s 2001 offering Sebastopol was somewhat of a disappointment for me. It offered some quality songs, but it was mostly scattershot, hit and miss. It sounded like Farrar was scared he’d been treading water throughout his Son Volt years and, as a result, sought to distance himself from his alt. country roots. Too many collaborators and too many different sounds sacrificed cohesiveness. Terroir Blues not only makes up for Sebastopol, it’s one of the best albums of his career.
The modernist sounds from Farrar’s first solo outing are compressed into thirty second snippets of backward spinning psychedelic feedback and used to link some of the most rural, traditional compositions in his catalog. This time around Farrar has also acknowledged that a solo album doesn’t mean he needs to do the lion’s share of the recording alone. Instead, by focusing mainly on vocals and acoustic guitar and enlisting a set of permanent backing musicians, better flow from song to song is assured.
Farrar’s songwriting is still in top form too, as the lyrics focus on meditative themes and quiet reassurances. On “California” he actually finds nothing but beauty in his surroundings for the first time in a while. “Dent County” is equally touching with its ghostly threads of pedal steel stitching a spare patchwork melody behind an echoing piano and Farrar’s trademark set-jaw vocals. “Hanging On To You” is simply one of the best desperate and resigned ballads ever written. Period.
The album manages an interesting circular arrangement by including alternate versions of four songs. “Hard is the Fall II” works much better by eliminating the out-of-sync reverberating dual vocals, while the others don’t improve on or diminish the originals. It sounds like Jay Farrar has finally found a comfortable point between his past sounds and his desire to innovate. A five-year wait since his last great album seemed like an awful long time, but it’s turned out to be well worth it. It’s good to have you back, Jay.