With a handful of underwhelming solo records and the drawn-out demise of Son Volt, Jay Farrar's last half-decade has been awfully uninspired—just song after song cut from the same dreary fabric that has resulted in so much monotonous blue-collar alt-country. Gob Iron, Farrar's venture with Aders Parker, is the first sign of a pulse in quite some time—ironic, considering that the unifying theme of the band's new album is mortality. When Farrar opens with "Death's Black Train Is Coming," the record blossoms with unaffected ease, and his slide-guitar treatment of "East Virginia Blues" has enough high lonesome to be placed alongside definitive renditions by Ramblin' Jack and the Stanley Brothers. Parker's contributions—especially "Hills of Mexico" and "Little Girl and Dreadful Snake"—have an equally tall pour of anguish, employing spare instrumentation and simple vocal harmonies to poignant ends. By the time the record closes with Farrar's full-band rendering of "Buzz & Grind," it's vigorous enough to bring our faith in him back to life too.
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