Album: Okemah and The Melody of Riot
. . .
And so, after Wide Swing Tremelo, Jay Farrar broke up the initial version of Son Volt and embarked on a solo career, producing two studio albums — 2001’s Sebastopol and 2003’s Terroir Blues, plus a film soundtrack, two live albums, and two compilation albums: one for Son Volt and one for Uncle Tupelo. The only one I truly enjoyed was 2003’s Uncle Tupelo compilation, and I didn’t even enjoy that as much as I enjoyed the Uncle Tupelo reissues that also came alongside it.
That said, I wonder if it was the act of compiling the Son Volt record that got Jay Farrar to reunite them. Well, not so much reunite, but reconfigure, as nobody from the original crew came back. The most cynical take was that “Son Volt” had more brand juice behind it, but it’s possible that Farrar just liked leading a band. And in the subsequent 17 years, the line-up has changed, but some of the same names keep joining him. Okemah and the Melody of Riot was probably Farrar’s best album since Trace, and it set up a pattern that has held ever since: Son Volt would release a record that sounded basically like the other ones, and I’d (sometimes eventually) would listen to it, and every few albums, he’d put out a song that totally killed me.
And yeah, it was yet another road song, like “Windfall” or “Route,” because that’s OK, because I’ve going to assume that Jay Farrar had done a quarter-century of traveling by that time, plus there was a bit of cheek involved with this one, because he was revisiting a highway already storied in music history.
US highway from north to south
It’s history breathing
Get out from under the gun
Drive down Highway 61
Hannibal’s son saw the Gold Rush
Saw the Civil War done
Then settled down some
On Highway 61
From what I can tell, “Afterglow 61” really has absolutely nothing to do with Bob Dylan’s classic “Highway 61 Revisited,” which starts off by setting the biblical story of Abraham there and only gets weirder as it goes on. Whereas Farrar is talking about the actual experience of driving the 61. That said, you know he relished hooking one of his most joyful vocal performances around singing “highwayyyyyyyyyy sixty-onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne” over and over and over over a jaunty rhythm and a cool, repeating guitar hook.
And, yeah, that was what first made this song jump out at me, but what made it stick was the chorus, with Farrar’s voice matching the tone of his words, and the voice I’d fallen in love the first time I heard Uncle Tupelo still killing it.
There’s no reason to feel downhearted
There’s music in the wheels
It’s there to be found
I’d like to lie and say that this song was a highlight of the second time I saw Son Volt, at the House of Blues in Hollywood opening for the Drive-by Truckers in 2006, but given that — according to setlist.fm — they’ve played it ever since, so I’m going to assume that they played it then, and I enjoyed it!
“Afterglow 61” Live on The Late Show With David Letterman, 2006
“Afterglow 61” Live at First Avenue, Minneapolis, 2019
Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page