Sure, he’s been hailed as a genius, or at least a legend. From the seminal group Uncle Tupelo that gave rise to the “alt country” movement (and No Depression magazine) to Son Volt, Farrar has long been known for his songcraft, which mixes elements as diverse as Bill Monroe and The Minutemen. But there has always been a feeling that Farrar has never been truly comfortable in whatever band setting he found himself. When Son Volt hit the scene with “Drown,” a cut that sounded unlike anything else on the band’s debut album, Trace, suddenly the retiring songwriter had a radio hit, and it seemed to push him even further away from the mainstream, instead of closer. The rest of Son Volt’s career seemed to be an exercise in chasing “Drown.” So it came as no surprise when Farrar put SV on hold to record his first solo record. For the first time, he is complete control of the musical paths a record takes, and it seems to suit him well. Surrounded by a talented (if eclectic) group of musicians including Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, Flaming Lips keyboardist Steve Drozd, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch and slide guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps, Farrar has made one of the year’s best records — a record that in many ways comes closest to fulfilling the raves he has long garnered. Rules are broken, such as the distorted drums on the opening “Feel Free” or its two-note organ riff. Somehow it all meshes with Farrar’s rather impenetrable voice. “Voodoo Candle” features one of those choruses that any writer would die for, and comes closest to getting Farrar back on the radio, with its wall of guitars and nonsensical lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, “Barstow”‘s opening “Anyone caught speaking Esperanto/Is thought crazy or headed for jail” speaks volumes — Farrar may well consider himself speaking Esperanto (the universal language), and crazy to boot. Sounds fine to me.