Son Volt Credit: David McClister

Jay Farrar titled the first new Son Volt studio album in four years Notes of Blue (Thirty Tigers), and he’s explained that the record was inspired by the spirit of the blues, with certain songs employing tunings used by the likes of Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell. But it only takes a few seconds of the opening track, “Promise the World,” with its oozing pedal-steel washes from Jason Kardong undergirding Farrar’s plaintive moan, to hear that Son Volt haven’t changed direction. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to tell how this record is appreciably different from the stuff they churned out two decades ago: it purveys the same sort of twangy country rock that made them alt-country icons, showing at least that there’s comfort in consistency. A song like the bruising “Static” certainly embraces blueslike themes in its meditation on suffering and mortality, while “Cairo and Southern”—referring to the downstate Illinois town—embraces a sense of home that acts as a balm, Farrar singing, “I’ll drink shine in Cairo / To ease the trouble in my mind.” Kindred spirit Anders Parker of Varnaline—formerly half of a duo with Farrar called Gob Iron—opens, reinforcing Son Volt’s stylistic single-mindedness.   v