From the sound of fiddles and the lively Texas two-step rhythm on opening track "Hearts nd Minds," it's clear that Jay Farrar and the current Son Volt line-up are staying true to the spirit of their new album's title. Farrar's reputation has been built upon taking country and western into unexpected sonic territory, so it's somewhat surprising to hear him in a far more traditional setting on Honky Tonk rather than the experimental mindset he's largely been in over the past decade. Still, few singer-songwriters produce work as consistently affecting as Farrar, and with its stripped-down atmosphere, the success of Honky Tonk rests almost entirely on his mesmerizing voice and melodies. In this way, Honky Tonk most resembles the quieter moments on early Son Volt releases, where Farrar's impressionistic snapshots of America floated on waves of pedal steel and high, lonesome harmonies. Carrying that through 11 tracks is an impressive feat; it cannot be said that there are any weak moments on this album, and the simple structure of "Barricades" and "Angel of the Blues" are mere parts of an overarching tapestry. Some may chide Farrar for playing it safe on Honky Tonk, but in nearly every respect this album sounds as if Farrar has finally arrived at an artistic place he's always longed to find.
Read our thoughts on Farrar's pre-Son Volt act Uncle Tupelo's No Depression reissue here.