Zero Mile Presents
Old Salt Union
1099 Euclid Ave NE
Atlanta, GA, 30307
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
On Son Volt’s new record, Union, present and past mingle into strong confluence.The thirteen new songs written by founder Jay Farrar confront our turbulent politics and articulate the clarity and comfort music can offer in the tumult. “There are so many forces driving our country apart,” observes Farrar. “What can we do to bring our society back together?”The country and blues sounds explored by Son Volt on its last two records (2013’s Honky Tonkand 2017’s Notes of Blue) linger in the grooves of Union. But the new record nods to many other mile markers along the band’s 25-year path. Some tunes offer a powerful return to the ringing lyrical clarity of 2005’s Okemah and the Melody of Riotand 2007’s The Search. Othershearken back to the freewheeling poetic melodicism of 1994’s Traceand 1997’s Straightaways.“Broadsides will be hurled to capture the truth,” sings Farrar on the brooding and blues-driven song that takes its name from the one-page bulletins that used to spread both proclamations and ballads. And songs such as “The 99,” “While Rome Burns,” and “Lady Liberty” push up the acoustic guitar in the mix to underscore the enduring role of troubadours in troubled times. “A lot of these songs are songs of turmoil,” says Farrar. “Questioning what’s going on.”On Union, Farrar taps into folk music’s rich lyrical legacy. It’s a tradition he has tapped often both in Son Volt and in Uncle Tupelo. “I was raised on folk music,” observes Farrar. “Politics is a common threadthere. In a time where we see threats to our way of life, and our democracy, from within, you say: What can I do? I put pen to paper and write music.”The chorus of Union’s title song was a “mantra” of James Paul ‘Pops’ Farrar, about whom Farrar has written so affectingly in his memoir, Falling Cars and Junkyard Dogs. “He thought the Israeli model was best,” says the songwriter. “Everybody serves in one capacity or another, and that was the best way to bring a country together. It did happen here in WorldWar II. People of different spiritual and economic backgrounds broughttogether. And there was an immense period of prosperity after that –for a myriad of reasons, but the idea that all walks of life were working together is important.”Union grounds its politics in startling images and portraits of the human costs of our divides. Guitar and organ commingle on “While Rome Burns” to underscore a connectedness in the way that “the freeways lead to the gravel roads, to the town squares and the rodeos.”Themournful shuffling “Reality Winner” echoes direct protest songs such as “Hurricane” –Bob Dylan’s ode to boxer Rubin Carter, who was wrongly convicted of triple homicide in 1967. Winner is a former intelligence analyst who leaked a National Security Agency document that detailed Russian attempts to hack voting systems to the media. She was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to five years and three months in prison. “We have a reality TV show president,” Farrar says, “and we have this woman named Reality Winner, and they’re linked in a way. She represents everything that you want in an American, someone who’s learned three languages and does her part. She’s basically a whistleblower doing hard time. Maybe this song brings more awareness to her plight.”A reinvigorated band chemistry anchors the new record, with new and returning members turning up in the Unionmix.Longtime members Mark Spencer (piano, organ, acoustic slide, lap steel, backing vocals) and Andrew DuPlantis (bass, backing vocals) have been at the core of Son Volt’s recent work.Guitarist Chris
Frame –who toured with Son Volt in the Okemahera –rejoined the group for the Notes of Bluetour and plays on the new record. DuPlantis recruited fellow Austin musician Mark Patterson to play drums and percussion. “We spent a lot of time together playing shows behind Notes of Blue,” says Farrar. “That time playing togethercoalesced into a sense of purpose.” The Son Volt leader’s return to playing acoustic guitar –after taking up electric guitar on the band’s last record –also had an impact. “I took a step back,” says Farrar. The space allowed Frame “to add a lot of guitarelements.” The result is “a different flavor and perspective.” Initially, Farrar intended Union to be an explicitly political statement. “Midway through,” he says, “I realized I needed some balance on the record.” The result is a cluster of new songs that reflect on the power of love, time, and music to heal and sustain us. “Holding Your Own” builds to a shimmering and powerful climax of piano and electric guitar as it relays the hopes Farrar identifies in “watching kids grow up andfind their place in society.” “Slow Burn” is an ode to hope and resilience’s power to shake off darkness. The song’s piano chords pave a road out of futility and reminds listeners that “every tunnel reaches the light.” Another highlight on the record is “Devil May Care” –an ebullient celebration of the joys of playing music. Farrar strip-mined musical gear catalogues for the poetry in their terminology, reeling off lines like “harmonic fidelity boost high pass filter on a balanced line / Or a cigarette on a headstock, all the same just make it rhyme.”The attitude of bands such as the early-era Replacements was present as he wrote the song. “That is the essence of what a band is,” he says. “You remember: Wait a minute: Music is supposed to make you throw your burdens to the wind, so I tried to include that approach as well.” Eight of the thirteen songs on Union were recorded at places associated with two figures in American history who Farrar says “made a difference”: Renowned American labor activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and quintessential American troubadour Woody Guthrie. Three songs were laid down at the Mother Jones Museum in Mount Olive, Illinois, while four others were recorded at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.“I felt doing it in a morechallenging environment might inspire us along the way,” says Farrar. “Doing mobile recordings was a way to push myself a little bit. It also pushed Jacob Detering, our engineer, who had to assemble a mobile unit and did a great job.” Proximity to Guthrie and his legacy pushed strongly into Union’s closing song: “The Symbol.” The song’s point of origin was Guthrie’s 1948 poem “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos,” which was later set to music by composer Martin Hoffman and is best-known as “Deportee.” Guthrie wrote at a moment when “workers needed to work fields weren’t even considered as people,” observes Farrar. In “The Symbol,” Farrar paints a compelling portrait of a Mexican man who helped rebuild New Orleans after Katrina and now finds himself buffeted by the wave of anti-immigration rhetoric and vengeful law enforcement. Farrar says that the key to writing songs on topical issues that stand the test of time is to be a truthful observer. “‘Deportee’ made such a lasting impression on me,” he observes. “But it was written in the 1940s You have to give your own take. Say this is what happened. Even if it seems temporary. Hopefully it’s not.”
Old Salt Union
“Old Salt Union has the groove and the chops of a great string band, balanced with infectious rock and roll energy. Their music occupies that sweet space between Old Crow folk and Yonder Mountain jam --
not a bad place to be for a band about to break.”— No Depression
A great band is more than the proverbial sum of its parts, and in the pursuit of becoming something that can cut through the clutter of YouTube stars and contest show runner-ups, a great roots music band must become a way of life. Less likely to rely on production or image, they’ve got to connect with their audience only through the craftsmanship of their songs, the energy they channel on the stage and the story that brings them together.
Old Salt Union is a string band founded by a horticulturist, cultivated by classically trained musicians, and fueled by a vocalist/bass player who is also a hip-hop producer with a fondness for the Four Freshmen. It is this collision of styles and musical vocabularies that informs their fresh approach to bluegrass and gives them an electric live performance vibe that seems to pull more from Vaudeville than the front porch.
In 2015 they won the FreshGrass Band contest and found the perfect collaborator in Compass Records co-founder and GRAMMY winning banjoist and composer, Alison Brown, whose attention to detail and high standards pushed the group to develop their influences from beyond a vocabulary to pull from during improvisation and into the foundation of something truly compelling in the roots music landscape.
Violinist John Brighton mentions some names familiar to the Compass roster as key influences, musicians like Darol Anger, Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and Mark O’Connor, all of whom have collaborated with Brown in the past. Primary vocalist and bassist, Jesse Farrar (for the indie rock heads - yes, he’s related – Son Volt front man Jay Farrar is Jesse’s uncle) brings an alternative rock spirit as well as his unique formative experiences as a hip hop producer and bass player for a national tour of The Four Freshmen. The band’s self-titled Compass debut combines these instrumental proclivities with pop melodies and harmonies into a coherent piece of work that carves out a road-less-travelled for the band in the now crowded roots music genre.
The album kicks off with a nod to alternative rock sensibilities – a deconstructed symphonic drone creeps in slowly, while Farrar emerges through the atmospherics to deliver the first lines “Stranded on a lonely road/Trying to find my way back home/A dollar and a broken heart/Didn’t seem to get me very far”. His words are followed by a dramatic moment of silence (a trick often used in hip hop) that quickly launches into “Where I Stand”, a hard-driving bluegrass track that gets moving so powerfully you almost don’t notice the layer of angelic harmonies flowing consistently underneath.
Mandolinist Justin Wallace takes over lead vocal duties for the second track “Feel My Love” as well as a version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. He pops up again on his composition “On My Way” and his no-frills, approachable voice is the perfect complement to Farrar’s more gymnastic style. The two work together beautifully on the Wallace-penned, “Hard Line”. Wallace is further showcased on the disc’s lone instrumental “Flatt Baroque”, composed by Brighton, who joins him in some twin mandolin, and it’s this more contemplative moment on the album where the listener hears him reaching to be in perfect sync with his bandmate, that best reflects Wallace’s role in the evolution story of the band. If Farrar has emerged as the heartbeat, then Wallace is the soul.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the band was founded by banjoist Ryan Murphey, the aforementioned horticulturist who came to bluegrass music and the banjo later in life. Finding a kindred spirit in Dustin Eiskant, the band’s former guitarist and Farrar’s cousin, the pair started the band in 2012 and Murphey played the banjo and led the band’s business through its early incarnations, including the recruitment of Farrar in 2014.
Though the band had established themselves as a growing festival act with performances at LouFest, Stagecoach Festival, Bluegrass Underground, Winter Wondergrass, Freshgrass, Wakarusa, Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Festival, and the 2014 Daytona 500, it was their breakout track on Spotify, “Madam Plum” that seemed to amplify awareness of the band beyond the bluegrass bubble.
Of working with the band in the studio, producer Brown says, “These post modern bluegrassers are true renegades. While they look like a bluegrass band, their musical sensibilities run much deeper and broader, borrowing as much from indie rock and jazz fusion as from Bill Monroe. And, even more exciting to me, they know no fear! They are wide open musical adventurers and we had a great time experimenting in the studio at the crossroads of these disparate influences.”
The most unexpected but possibly most fascinating song on the album is a ballad entitled “Bought and Sold”. Its earnest beauty is balanced with a youthful inventiveness that leaves a solemn mark on the listener who might wake up at the end of it thinking, “What just happened?”.
At this point, the future of the band seems marvelously unclear. The album closes with “Here and Off My Mind” which seems like the bluegrass song that Conor Oberst never wrote featuring a lyric that ends with the promise of “a better life” though from the all-hands-on-deck jam session that breaks out in the middle (is that a kazoo?) one gets the sense that the band can’t imagine a better one than they have in the beat up Winnebago they currently call home.
$22.00 - $42.00
Reserved seats are located in the center section of the main floor.
All other areas are general admission.
General admission seats are available in the side sections of the main floor.