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The Terroirist

Jay Farrar calls Terroir Blues a "back to basics" album. It's not.

In the months following the release of Sebastopol, Spencer had been accompanying Farrar on the road. Their collaboration over the course of the year flowed into the Terroir sessions. "The slide guitar wound up the sonic motif, if there has to be one," Farrar says. "It wasn't planned that way. The fact that Mark and I have done a lot of shows over the last few years allowed for us to find a common thread pretty easy. Especially with that instrumental 'Fish Fingers Norway.' We tried a similar concept to our live cover of George Harrison's 'Love You Too,' though he played the song on the slide guitar. I asked him if he could play it Indian style, and he said, 'Yep, no problem.' When Mark played regularly at a bar in New York, he'd buy tapes of Indian music from a street vendor. He's got it all stored up in there."

Farrar wrote most of the songs over the summer of 2002 and at least two of the songs are meditations on the loss of his father, Jim "Pops" Farrar, who died that August. Over a simple piano part and surrounded by pedal steel, Farrar offers the tenderest of elegies: "Beat bars and the Maritime/Post-war peace and paid your dues/ Now the burden is passed on/Find a way out of these blues/You're back in Dent County."

"The contributions he made to teaching me, as well as my brothers," Farrar says, "and virtually anyone in the neighborhood who wanted to learn to play, he'd do it. I guess you'd say his legacy lives on, in the people he taught to play."

Over the past year, Farrar faced his own legacy with the seminal Uncle Tupelo as he oversaw, with former bandmates Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn, the remastering and reissuing of the band's catalog. "At times it was like, 'Who are these people?'" he says, laughing. "By the second listen through, they'd start to sound familiar again."

Neither intimidated nor haunted by the past, whether personal, professional or musical, Farrar has managed that remarkable feat: to remain connected to his sources while still imagining possibilities that go beyond them. "Remembrances of pride, guilt, laughter and luck" he sings on another song for his father. "Hard is the fall, but your heart is still brand new."

"When I think of the past, I'm not brooding," Farrar says. "I find it generally uplifting, the sense of history in this city and the potential it has. I guess I'm a 'glass is half full' rather than 'glass is half empty' kind of guy."

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