Back when I slugged away in the Record Searchlight newsroom, the argument surfaced again and again between my neighboring colleagues Rob Rogers and Dave Benda. They’d battle the case of who’s better: Jay Farrar or Jeff Tweedy.
And many of you are going, who?
Back then I was saying, "Please, for the love of God, turn the page on this one."
But Rogers and Benda just plowed on with it. Rob is deeply in the Wilco (Tweedy) camp, while Benda leans toward Son Volt (Farrar). The two knuckleheads (great guys, actually) succeeded in one thing: they turned me into fans of both men and their musical projects.
What does any of this have to do with Jack Kerouac? Well, I’m getting to that. I guess I’m banking on the name "Kerouac" being a tad more sexy than Tweedy or Farrar in a headline. But the tie is coming.
First, the world’s fastest synopsis on Tweedy-Farrar. They were both founding members of the deeply influential alt-country band Uncle Tupelo. Both were/are explosive songwriting talents, and naturally there wasn’t enough space for both of them in a single band.
A lot of music fans (like Rogers and Benda) picked a camp and have compelling reasons for liking Wilco/Tweedy or Son Volt/Farrar better.
My feeling is we have to pay attention to both of these Illinois artists. They’re making some of the most compelling American music out there today.
I never know what to call things. Their genre has been most commonly been tabbed alt-country. These guys make music that also rocks hard or merges into more of a folk vibe.
Wilco has released a series of critically acclaimed albums which have slowly seeped into my consciousness. My experience has likely been like a lot of listeners — something seemed a little dissonant and odd about Wilco at first. Maybe I didn’t like Tweedy’s voice or something.
But after more lessons, Wilco hit me like a rogue wave. I couldn’t predict where the music was going and the lyrics were captivating entryways into the playful and brilliant mind of Tweedy. The band’s latest release, "Wilco: the Album ," is a stellar, confident record that I’m returning to again and again.
On the Farrar side, I more immediately connected with his band Son Volt and his solo projects including the album "Sebastobol." I started playing the wonderful Son Volt tune "Windfall" on guitar.
Now, the Kerouac connection.
In October, Farrar joined songwriter Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and released the album, "One Fast Move and I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur." Farrar and Gibbard have set Kerouac’s words to music. I haven’t read Kerouac’s "Big Sur," a semi-autobiographical account of coming to grips with depression and addiction from a hideout on Big Sur. I’ve read that this work deals with the hangover (on many levels) that set in following Kerouac’s famous book, "On the Road."
Benjamin Gibbard and Jay Farrar
Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of getting to the point that this Farrar-Gibbard album is really fabulous. It gives me goosebumps and I can’t seem to get it off my playlist. These guys dealt aces by putting Kerouac’s captivating words to music. Gibbard’s voice sounds amazing and Farrar’s sonic instincts are dynamite.
This is a lush recording with plenty of open space for Kerouac’s words to shine through as Farrar and Gibbard trade off on lead vocals.
Here’s a vid of Gibbard and Farrar playing acoustic in a New York Public Radio performance: