Son Volt, Trace

Peter Blackstock

By Peter Blackstock

on 09.23.11 in Reviews


Son Volt
A balance of countrified acoustic ballads and fully-charged electric rockers

Given the long-term career trajectory of Jeff Tweedy’s band Wilco after he and Jay Farrar laid to rest Uncle Tupelo in 1994, it’s easy to forget that Farrar’s band Son Volt was a much stronger horse out of the gate. On the heels of Wilco’s enjoyable if unspectacular 1995 debut A.M. came Son Volt’s Trace, a near-perfect collection of 10 originals and a Ron Wood cover that suggested Farrar was one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation. Son Volt’s mode was an equal-parts balance of countrified acoustic ballads and fully-charged electric rockers, with Farrar’s elusive, enchanting lyrics and rich, warm voice at the center. The album’s opening track, “Windfall,” sounds as if it has existed forever, a simple but beautiful ode to the road floating effortlessly on currents of pedal steel and fiddle: “Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel/ May the wind take your troubles away.” When Farrar and the band — original Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn plus brothers Jim and Dave Boquist — kick it into high gear, as on the catchy minor radio hit “Drown” and the urgent “Loose String,” they’re flawlessly in sync, as if they’d been playing together for years rather than months. “Too Early,” a touching caution to legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt, is followed by the Wood cover, “Mystifies Me” a free-and-easy finale to a record with a tight focus and zero filler.