"The words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head," sings Jay Farrar on "Bandages & Scars." So begins Okemah and the Melody of Riot, the eagerly anticipated fourth disc by the renovated Son Volt. Okemah is Guthrie's Oklahoma birthplace -- but Farrar's former bandmate, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, paid far greater homage to the folk legend years ago with Mermaid Avenue. On Riot, Farrar sounds more constipated than inspired. As lackluster as its 1998 predecessor, Wide Swing Tremolo, Riot is one long dribble of aggravating blandness that makes even Farrar's tepid solo albums seem vital. Part of the blame lies with his new backup players, who must be so in awe of their boss that they dare not creep out of his shadow, consequently turning in performances that carry none of the dynamism that made Farrar and Tweedy's Uncle Tupelo so rightfully lauded. In the end, Riot is no riot at all, melodic or otherwise -- and it bears little resemblance to the stirring, revolutionary sounds that once emanated from Okemah. -- Jason Heller
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