Son Volt, an American band I only came across a few months ago, have become one of my favorite groups I’ve “discovered” this year. Over the decades, they have touched the alternative rock, alternative country, folk-rock and Americana genres. In fact, they are considered a staple of the alternative rock movement of the 1990s.
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar formed Son Volt in 1994, following the break-up of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country-rock band he had founded in 1987 together with Jeff Tweedy. Meanwhile, Tweedy went on to form alternative rock group Wilco.
In addition to Farrar, Son Volt’s initial line-up included ex-Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn, along with brothers Dave Boquist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, lap steel, dobro) and Jim Boquist (bass, backing vocals). By the time the group had secured a deal with Warner Bros. and went into the studio to record their debut album Trace, Eric Heywood (mandolin, pedal steel) had joined them.
Trace, which came out in September 1995, is the first of 10 studio albums Son Volt have released to date, the most recent being the excellent Electro Melodier from July 30 this year. The band’s catalog also includes the 2020 live album Live At The Orange Peel. Let’s take a closer look at Trace!
I’d like to start with the opener Windfall, one of the acoustics tracks on the album. Like all except one track, the beautiful tune was penned by Farrar. I love the fiddle and pedal steel guitar, which give the song a warm country sound.
Route is a nice crunchy rocker. Apple Music notes Farrar’s Neil Young-influenced sound. This is one of the tunes that does remind me a bit of Crazy Horse.
On Ten Second News, things slow down and turn acoustic again. Another great-sounding song with a bit of a bluesy touch.
Drown, another rocker, did well on two U.S. Billboard charts: Mainstream Rock Tracks (no. 10) and Modern Rock Tracks (no. 25). According to Wikipedia, it became Son Volt’s only single to make either of the charts. I find that a bit hard to believe!
Let’s do two more, starting with another acoustic tune: Out of the Picture.
And here’s another great rocker to wrap up: Catching On.
For the above and the remaining tracks, you can check out the playlist below.
Trace was co-produced by Brian Paulson and Son Volt. Paulson is best known for his work with Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Superchunk and Wilco. He also produced Son Volt’s sophomore album Straightaways from April 1997. Other musicians on Trace include Craig Krampf (drums on Live Free), Dan Newton (accordion on Too Early) and Marc Perlman (bass on Mystifies Me).
While Trace only reached no. 166 on the Billboard 200, the album was well-received by music critics. In this context, Wikipedia highlights AllMusic’s review, which stated, “Throughout Son Volt’s debut, Trace, the group reworks classic honky tonk and rock & roll, adding a desperate, determined edge to their performances.” AmericanaUK characterized the album as “a graceful masterpiece, a positive turning of the page for Farrar, and a gentle reminder of the power and long-lasting influence of Uncle Tupelo.” The album also placed within the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 1995 critics’ list.
Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube