Two seminal alt-country acts are coming to town, both at mid-stride in a retrospective step in their careers.
Son Volt and Cowboy Junkies are co-headlining a tour that comes Thursday to the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.
Cowboy Junkies’ most recent recording revisited the material from the album that was a breakthrough two decades and 19 releases ago, but this time with an all-star cast of guests.
On Son Volt’s new album, frontman and chief songwriter Jay Farrar has pared back his sonic arsenal for a more familiar feel.
“American Central Dust,” is the zig to the zag that was 2007’s “The Search,” which found Son Volt experimenting and expanding its sound with lilting horns, backward guitar loops, alternative tunings and keyboards that sound like strings sections.
Released earlier this month, “American Central Dust” is a tightly packed 44 minutes of stripped-down, more-traditional-than- alternative country.
“After all of that experimentation it seemed like a natural course to go back to a simple aesthetic,” Farrar said in a telephone interview.
With a title taken from three key themes Farrar identified in his current songwriting, “American Central Dust” phases between historical narratives, industrial ballads and forlorn flashbacks with potent and thought-provoking imagery – whether it’s the mournful nautical tragedy described in “Sultana,” or the curious admiration for the legend of Keith Richards snorting his father’s remains in “Cocaine and Ashes.”
The first Son Volt release on the venerable Rounder Records label, “American Central Dust” is highlighted by the intertwining and understated styles of Chris Masterson on lead guitar and Mark Spencer, who switches off on keyboards and lap and pedal steel guitars.
Rounded out in the rhythm section by longtime Farrar affiliates Dave Bryson on drums (the only member who doesn’t sing backing vocals) and Andrew Duplaintis on bass, this current lineup played on the road together for about eight months before going in to record the album. Eleanor Whitmore sat in on violin and viola.
“It was good to get back into strings with Eleanor after not having done much of that for awhile, but essentially those eight months worth of shows was coalescence of the chemistry of this lineup and the way people are playing off of each other (on the new record),” Farrar said.
Cowboy Junkies also tested its chemistry on its latest album, “The Trinity Session Revisited,” but against a host of guests.
While taking a trip back through time to its 1988 platinum-selling sophomore release “The Trinity Session,” the Canadian quartet enlisted the help of Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, Natalie Merchant and Jeff Bird.
It was recorded at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity, the same venue where the original album was recorded.
While Farrar returned to his country roots on his new album, there might be something more foreign on the horizon. He’s collaborating with Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard on an album to accompany an upcoming documentary.
“On the surface there might be this perception that we don’t have a lot in common, but once we got in the studio together we found out we do,” Farrar said of Gibbard.
“We can both quote the drunken speech John Wayne gave to ROTC cadets during the Vietnam War.”