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Past perfect

Alt-Country

Son Volt

The Search
(Legacy)
Essential: "Circadian Rhythm"

On "The Search," Son Volt offers up a collection of highly listenable roots-rock tunes that stray little from its longtime formula. As ever, the band's forlorn acoustic yarns and pretty little piano ballads are dirtied up by the strain of Jay Farrar's lilting voice and the grubby detail of some not-so-pretty lives. They land a few memorable hooks on songs such as "Circadian Rhythm" in a winning style reminiscent of REM's country-tinged uplift, but it's Farrar's attention to character detail that carries the water here. "Methamphetamine," in its resounding open chords and melting slide guitar, is a standout. "I took a night shift/ Another nickel and dime/ Still waiting to meet the next ex-wife," he sings. There's a brittle and beautiful contrast between the wide-open exuberance of the instrumentation and the worn-down acceptance of the lyrics. It's nothing we haven't heard from Son Volt and a dozen other imitators before, but "The Search" has a lived-in quality that's impossible to fake. It's a story, much like Son Volt, that seems contentedly rooted in the past. [Luke O'Neil]

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