Jay Farrar Terroir Blues

In hindsight, it’s easy to understand why Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy ultimately veered off in two different directions during Uncle Tupelo’s short lifespan. On the surface, it’s a wonder that Farrar’s doom-laden parables and Tweedy’s combination of witty and heartfelt observations managed to co-exist at all. Yet, as their separate career paths have progressed, it’s becoming clear that their musical attitudes could converge again at some point after all. Farrar’s work with Son Volt was a logical outgrowth of the Tupelo template, but on his first solo album, 2001’s Sebastopol, restless stirrings were detectable, largely through his decision to collaborate with the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd on much of it. But even that album now sounds conventional compared to this follow-up. As Tweedy so memorably put it throughout the making of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it’s an artist’s right to take apart their normal working routine and reassemble it as they wish. Terroir Blues illustrates that on at least a few levels Farrar took that advice to heart. In general, the album as a whole (six tracks are brief tape loop snippets) plays like a painter’s sketchbook; acoustic impressions of scenes and emotions, hastily coloured just to give an indication of what another attempt might reveal. After one listen, it’s tempting to describe the album as unfinished, especially since four songs are augmented by different versions, à la the Lips’ "Race For The Prize.” Then again, that was my first reaction to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot until it reminded me that the key to being a great artist is having complete trust in one’s instincts. Miles Davis once said that the hardest thing for him to know was when to stop working on something. Whether Farrar picked the right moment to stop working on Terroir Blues can only be determined by many more listens, but there is a great album in there somewhere. "Hard Is The Fall,” "Out On The Road,” "Dent County” and a few others, contain his trademark touch with some new twists. But there is also a sense that, as Tweedy did on YHF, he’s let some kind of genie out of the bottle. In that respect, Terroir Blues is, in the end, the sound of Farrar embracing freedom, something every artist should be lucky enough to experience. (Artemis)