The Archives: Jay Farrar's "Sebastopol" (2001)

Oh the debates my friends and I had when Farrar released his first solo record following 15 years with Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. It took most of us some time to wrap our arms around this collection, but once we did, the ferocity of our discussions was worthy of legend. Once I'd listened enough, I was one of the very vocal naysayers. What the hell was this "Voodoo Candle" song? And the groaning intro on "Damn Shame" was just silly. I wanted the rustic and bare-bones Americana Jay Farrar. Whatever this new sound was, I didn't like it.

Following Sebastopol came the even more disappointing Terroir Blues, a record so bland and predictable that I figured my time with Farrar came to a halt with Son Volt's 1998 masterpiece Wide Swing Tremolo.

Jay Farrar @ The Bowery Ballroom, NYC, 2003

Sometime early last year I took a day off work and planned a solo day trip up to the town of Sebastopol, CA. I'd heard that it was a quaint little liberal town with a great bookstore, one or two bars and a very 50's feel. As I flipped through CDs for the drive, I figured I'd toss in, well, Sebastopol. I hadn't listened to the record in years, and figured it was worth a spin on the ride up. As I pulled into town, I recall "Make It Alright" blaring through the speakers and coming to realize that I was experiencing something new with this record. Later came "Drain", "Different Eyes", "Outside the Door", "Vitamins" and then a return to the beginning of the record. Like many of the greatest records I own, I realized that Sebastopol just needed time. It wasn't a quick record to grasp and the stylistic change in Farrar's work likely caught me off guard a few years back. But now I got it. And the sound, the pounding drums and the beautiful lyrics, made it clear that I'd missed this one. Perhaps this wasn't Trace, but this certainly represented a continuation and maturation in Farrar's musicianship and songwriting. It's one of those rare records that rewards the listener as the years go by and the landscape takes shape.