Trace, Warner Bros. CD 9 46010-2, 1996
Son of Uncle Tupelo
Like a trip down a long forgotten highway, Son Volt's debut has a
timeless and familiar quality. Songwriter/frontman Jay Farrar, ex of the
punkish roots band Uncle Tupelo, invokes the rich archetypes of America
with songs of lost dreams and hope on the highways and byways of the
Midwest. Alternating between plaintive country-folk ballads and more
conventional rock tunes, the disc conjures up the ghosts of classic Neil
Young (circa After the Goldrush) or Gram Parsons. My favorites are the
ballads, usually built upon spare acoustic guitar but layered with steel
guitar, fiddle, dobro, and banjo. Throughout, the band has a loose,
ragged feel that perfectly suits the material.
Farrar's wistful lyrics are keepers, thoughtful without pretense. The
road is a unifying theme, from the romantic utopia of "Windfall" ("Both
feet on the floor/Both hands on the wheel/May the wind take your
troubles away") to the escapist wanderlust of "Tear Stained Eye" ("I
would meet you anywhere/Western sun meets the air/We'll hit the
road/Never looking behind"). "Ten Second News" is a morose ditty that
lifts the riff from Neil's "Old Man" to tell a tale of entropy ("Only
you'll ever know/As day by day disappears/You scorch and drown
alive/Never knowing why").
When pushing for the easy ennui of a country ballad, Son Volt is dead
on. Elsewhere, the garage rock numbers like the radio friendly "Drown"
and "Catching On" are less convincing. The electric guitar crunch sounds
too generic, and Farrar's voice seems strained on the uptempo numbers.
But Son Volt's songwriting is so good they may stumble, but they never
fall. Trace's melancholy charm conveys hope for the future in the face
of an ambiguous present. For that alone we should be thankful. -- Scott Boggan
Windfall | Live Free | Tear Stained Eye | Route | Ten Second News |
Drown | Loose String | Out of the Picture | Catching On | Too Early |
of related interest
Anodyne, Sire 45424-2 CD, 1993 (43:25)
A moody band mixing punk, pop, country and bluegrass, Uncle Tupelo
broke up in 1994 just as their influence was being felt. This, their
last album, is a great place to start. Founded by Son Volt's Jay Farrar
and Jeff Tweedy, who went on to form the group Wilco.