New Multitudes [Jay Farrar et al.]: S/T (2012)
Yet a decade and a half after Wilco (with Billy Bragg) released the Mermaid Avenue album based around unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics, Farrar set some additional Guthrie lyrics to new music. For the project, Farrar recruited My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, as well as singer-songwriters Will Johnson and Anders Parker, dividing up songwriting and vocal duties fairly evenly. Now, as more a Wilco than a Son Volt guy, I miss the presence of Mermaid Ave. stand-out tunes like "California Stars" and "Hoodoo Voodoo." At the same time, Mermaid felt disjointed, like separate Wilco and Billy Bragg albums welded together, whereas New Multitudes sounds like the work of a unified band.
Which isn't to say it's homogeneous. There's a nice blend of styles (albeit within a general Americana framework), from quieter, pastoral folk numbers to straight-out country rockers. Farrar's opener "Hoping Machine" is a quiet midtempo tune, sounding like classic Son Volt. Johnson's "V.D. City" brings a little noise, a burst of Crazy Horse filtering through; that Crazy Horse vibe returns in Parker's excellent "Old L.A.," a straight-up 90s alt.country rocker, as well as in his slower, darker "Angel's Blues." Farrar's "Carlesss Reckless Love," like the opener, is another really nice, mellow, tuneful track, while his closing title track is simply gorgeous, throwing back to Tupelo's legendary March 1992 LP. Meanwhile, the James contributions are more in the style of his laid back solo work than the more anthemic rockers of My Morning Jacket, though "Changing World" is a sweet gospel-tinged hymn.
There was also a limited edition version that appended a second disc, mostly acoustic, folky tunes, but with the occasional rocker; it's not essential, and the double-length album drags a bit, but you can edit yourself a pretty great single-CD version from the two discs.
Here's an audio rip of the title track: