Honky Tonk

Ever since Jay Farrar's Uncle Tupelo days, you could imagine his big, bourbon-y voice fronting a country band in a Bakersfield roadhouse circa 1963. Honky Tonk comes close to realizing that sound, and it's a gorgeous thing. Key are the twin fiddles of Gary Hunt and Justin Branum – both new to Son Volt – and Brad Sarno and Mark Spencer's pedal steel. The music flickers between tradition (the waltzing "Hearts and Minds") and abstraction (the Eno-ish drones of "Livin' On"). Ditto Farrar's lyrics, which are less wordy than usual but still busy negotiating past and present; see "Seawall," where the ex-punk cheekily drawls, "God save the queen/Of Charleston, West Virginia."