Terroir Blues finds Farrar’s voice as clear as ever. From the first song, “No Turning Back,” he sounds sincere and warm, as though he is taking me aside to whisper in my ear: “Deliver us from now / From this 21st century blood / Bound to get burned.”
Disappointingly, the second track, “Space Junk I,” is just standard backwards-guitar experimentation, which would be interesting to play backward to hear how it sounds “forward” if you’ve got the motivation. I just skip past it.
“Hard Is The Fall” is confusing. “Living through the hardest times is inspiration enough,” is an interesting lyric and Farrar’s acoustic guitar and Eric Heywood’s pedal steel sound great, but the way the songs is mixed has the left channel a split-second faster than the right, leaving an annoying echo, and rendering Farrar’s singing nearly impossible to understand. Reverb would have been fine. For this song, I only listen to the left or right channel at a time.
“Fool King’s Crown” sounds as though someone played each instrument and vocal track through a megaphone (similar to Isaac Brock’s “Wild Pack Of Family Dogs,” except not as good). The crusty sound leaves me frustrated and missing the clear vocals of the other 90% of the album. From the lyric sheet, I judge that this song is about poor leadership and money grubbing.
Other than “Hard Is The Fall,” “Fool King’s Crown” and the six (!) versions of “Space Junk” on the 23-track album, the rest of Terroir Blues is acoustic, beautiful, and provocative. Jay’s voice is warmer than ever, his lyrics are complex and enigmatic as ever, and the instrumentation (lots of pedal steel, strings and even a flute) add to an energetic yet mellow, thoughtful release.
“Out On The Road” features Lew Winer on flute. His wistful crescendos match the song’s themes: “You’re going to be built up / You’re going to be torn down,” but the flute counters the lyrical ambivalence and supports Farrar’s optimistic advice: “Some will promise all the world for just one dance / You’re gonna find pain… Don’t let the falling rain get in your eyes.” See, it’s not so depressing after all.
And not all the songs are sad, either. On “California,” Farrar sings “Walked the sidewalks of San Francisco / Spent the night in a town called Weed,” and even as he admits that “It’s been said before,” the song sounds fresh as a Coronado morning.
While Farrar offers no solution to his apocalyptic visions, it’s obvious by the end that he wants to be there to help. And while he wants to unravel our tightly-wound, near-busted pocket watches, he wonders “What’s in store when the going gets unraveled?” He nearly calls to us: “Who’s going to make a difference?” I suppose we should.
This album is inspirational in its shimmering acoustic and pedal steel compositions, and Lew Winer’s flute is exquisite throughout. (Trust me, I mean it. I’ve never used the word “exquisite” before.) With its 23 tracks, I’m willing to sacrifice the few non-songs. Even if you’re not yet a fan of Jay Farrar, Terroir Blues might be the album to turn you into one.
You can buy this album from Amazon. And you can download a different mix of “All of Your Might” (mp3) and other mp3s from jayfarrar.net. Check out Pat La Penna’s article about a Jay Farrar show in Michigan back in 2001: Another Round Before You Go.