Written by Daniel Barker
Feb 24, 2009 at 10:00 PM
ImageIt was eleven years ago when my roommate was lent a CD from a vendor at his job by a band with a weird name that was somehow associated with Wilco. That CD was Trace and the band was Son Volt. It stayed in the CD player on repeat non-stop for an entire weekend with no objection from any in the eclectic three-person household with music taste that were all over the board. I can distinctly remember going to sleep and waking up to the sound of Jay Farrar’s voice over and over for days on end. Well that vendor never got his CD back and the members of that short snap shot picture in time have since delved deep into the No Depression Movement which has lead HMR to where it is on this Tuesday Night February 24th, 2009 at The Continental Club in Houston, Texas.

The lineup for this packed house show behind Jay Farrar tonight consisted of Dave Bryson-drums; Andrew Duplantis-Bass; Chris Masterson-lead guitar; Mark Spencer- pedal steel guitar, keyboard. They are still touring behind The Search released in March 2007 on Transmit Sounds Records/Legacy Recordings with an anticipated release of a still untitled CD in May. The night marked a homecoming for Houston’s own Chris Masterson as well. Usually a 10PM start at The Continental meant a MINIMUM 11 o’clocker.  But HMR knows JF’s OCD like promptness and stood ready when Son Volt took the stage at straight up 10.

The group started out a tad bit slow kinda feeling their way thru the first several songs none noteworthy but had hit full stride by the fifth song “Hangin’ Blue Side” highlighted by Mark Spencer phenomenal pedal steel work and Duplantis’s decent harmony vocal.  The multi-instrumentalist Mark Spencer has been with JF on and off over the years thru solo projects and reunions, etc. The level of trust & comfort between these guys is very evident on the stage and was never more apparent than on these rode hard and put away wet classics. On “Tear Stained Eye”  Spencer jazzed it up with an accordion like solo on the keys which added a nice touch then went straight back to awing the audience on the pedal steel for “Creosote”.  SV then broke out the soon to be classic “Methamphetamine” with some really good work on a challenging drum line from Dave Bryson. The song holds a rare narrative lyric from the often ambiguous Farrar on a subject that has deeply affected many people from all walks of life in this country.

After the mini-set of vintage Son Volt, Jay Farrar took the time to announce the upcoming release of a new album this June. Word on the street has it that this work will be “back to basics”, falling in the line of “Trace” and “Straightaways” which I think is something to look forward to. SV then broke into a song from the said new album “Ghost of Daylight” which confirmed the speculation.  I think it was about this time that someone screamed out a request for “Casino Queen”, a song off Wilco’s debut AM.  WTF???

You might have noticed we have not mentioned local boy Chris Masterson yet…Let’s just say HMR has had an eye on him for a while and are very impressed with this guy. CM cut his teeth in Houston clubs like the Fabulous Satellite Lounge and The Big Easy when he was a 14 year old prodigy playing more southern blues than country licks. Masterson left Jack Ingram’s band after a 4 year stint in early 2007 to join Son Volt when Brad Rice was sucked up by Keith Urban’s promise of celebrity. Jay Farrar handpicked CM for the upcoming tour which he began by playing the Conan O’Brian Show on March 1st. CM has played with second generation alt-country pioneers Bobby Bare, Jr & Hank III as well as Wayne “The Train” Hancock.

Even with the Son Volt day job he has managed to release a CD of his own “Late Great”,  and produce  two albums – his significant other Eleanor Whitmore’s album “Airplane” and another rising Houstonian artist John Evan’s “Lucky 13”.  CM is definitely a man with his own style and taste sporting a unique hair highlight & euro eyeglasses plus wearing lime green boots while playing some really great Gretsch guitars manipulating his sound fantastically. Undoubtedly learning a thing or two from Will Kimbrough, Buddy Miller & Mark Spencer over the years…He is quite the standout in a group not traditionally known for their fashion.

We had to give you the scoop on CM because he just flat-out bitched the rest of the set list…With the whole group ready to let loose the guys blazed thru “Feel Free”, “Drown” , “Bandages and Scars”, “Voodoo Candle” and “AfterGlow 61” with controlled sonic abandon even putting a smile on the stoic JF from time to time… Then came a great rendition of the melancholy “Ten Second News” where CM and MS dueled on lap vs. Pedal steel guitars. The audience was the only winner on a song worn deep into the subconscious of those roommates so many years ago.

With a fan taking a the opportunity to scream at the group it had him taken 4 years to get here before the guys broke into arguable the most popular sing along “WindFall”. SV’s fan base is loyal and strong. HMR had actually linked up thru message boards with a group from as far as New Jersey this evening that was following the group thru Texas for all 3 performances. The final song of the set was an exhilarating extended and Hare Krishna overloaded version of “Chaos Streaming”. The gents took a very short break and were back for the single song encore of Waylon Jennings “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” featuring JF on honky-tonk harmonica. As anticipated, the show ended almost exactly midnight. Ya think JF’s a tad bit anal??

It is great to have one of the architects of the modern alt-country movement playing to at a very uncharacteristic Continental Houston crowd steadily over the past several years. With WILCO selling out the big venues and The Bottle Rockets not even able to find a Houston gig things tends to be all over the board for us No Depression brethren.  If you get a chance just take a look at www.jayfarrar.net for the body of work this relatively young man has laid down over the years with no evidence that he is looking back.  See you out supporting live music.