Back in 1996, every mutton-chopped songwriter with a rhyming dictionary wanted to be Jay Farrar. These days, most of them would be happy if Farrar would just be himself and go back to rocking like Neil Young's bastard son. After two mysterious solo albums filled with abstract instrumentals and Eastern tunings, Farrar has returned to the Son Volt moniker to reward his faithful, and Okemah and the Melody of Riot sees Farrar stepping back into the cowpunk dust storm Jeff Tweedy helped him kick up 15 years ago in Uncle Tupelo. The anti-Bush anthem "Jet Pilot" rewrites Gil Scott Heron with a Crazy Horse-stomp, while the chorus of "Atmosphere" reaches for the melodic heavens occupied by Farrar's old buddies the Jayhawks. While his new band doesn't quite have the chemistry of his Trace-era lineup, he did pick some good ringers, borrowing from the bands of fellow songwriters Ryan Adams and Richard Buckner. Farrar's sheepish stage presence might fool some fans, but Okemah is a fine reminder that he can still roar like a lion.
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