Let it never be said that Jay Farrar is a whore for the camera. Or that he gets wrapped up in the rock-star glitz and glamour. Or that he has an electrifying stage presence. “Thanks, very much,” is about the most animated comment that we get from him in this live album, Stone, Steel, & Bright Lights, released on his own Transmit Sound label.
Then again, the Uncle Tupelo founder has always been more about blue-collar stone and steel than bright lights, and this album certainly ends up relying more on Farrar’s stark instrumentation and slack-jawed vocal delivery than any slick production tricks (some of which Farrar has dabbled with in recent studio recordings).
Those who have followed Farrar’s solo career may very well find this album worth buying. Hardcore fans will no doubt be enthused to find the album accompanied by a DVD showing live recordings of all the tracks on the CD.
There are original takes on songs such as “Fool King’s Crown,” in which studio tricks are traded for the more modest alt.-country sprawling rock of his backing band, Crayon. Farrar also pulls a few surprises — covers of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” and Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” are tackled with some success — and unveils a couple new numbers. Most notable is “6-String Belief,” in which Farrar affirms his belief in the triumph of music over its current state, calling for “a grassroots insurrection.” Even those who don’t think Farrar is the man to lead such a musical revolution have to admire his spirit.
Fans of Farrar’s earlier work with Sun Volt and Uncle Tupelo, however, or those unfamiliar with the man at all, are not likely to become converts based on this collection. Stone, Steel, & Bright Lights almost entirely comprises songs from Farrar’s two solo LPs, Terroir Blues and Sebastopol, with a token track, “Greenwich Time,” from the ThirdShiftGrottoSlack EP. The concert footage won’t be particularly captivating to strangers, either. Both Farrar and the crowd seem abnormally subdued.
Although Farrar stays true to his low-key grassroots style, it seems Stone, Steel, & Bright Lights could use a good shot of adrenaline, or at least demonstrated emotion. Listeners unfamiliar with Farrar will likely question what enthusiasm prompted the release of a live album about which neither artist nor crowd seems particularly enthused.