What I’ve Been Listening to: Son Volt/Trace

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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Perhaps it’s not surprising that checking iTunes yesterday hardly revealed any new music releases dated December 24. Which artist would really want to issue an album or a single that day when many folks are focused on Christmas and are done with gift shopping. Of course, I realize release dates are mostly determined by record labels, though December 24 shouldn’t be in their best interest either. Anyway, I still found some music I like that came out fairly recently and, as such, still qualifies as new, at least in my book. My picks this week all fall within different types of rock. Here we go!

Black Map/Witching Hour

Black Map are a post-hardcore supergroup formed in 2014 in San Francisco after the trio’s respective bands had gone on hiatus. Their members include Dredg guitarist Mark Engles; vocalist and guitarist Ben Flanagan, from The Trophy Fire; and drummer Chris Robyn, formerly with Far (all groups I don’t know). A debut EP, Driver, released in February 2014 was followed by the group’s first full-length album …And We Explode in October that year. Witching Hour is an upfront track from Black Map’s upcoming third full-length studio release Melodoria scheduled for Feb 18, 2022. It appeared on December 17. I can hear a bit of U2 here – check out the neat sound!

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Nashville, Tenn. group Goodbye June were formed in 2005. Their lineup features Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. Apple Music describes them as a hard rock band who blend a rootsy sound with big guitars and plenty of strutting style. Their debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out in 2012. See Where the Night Goes is the title track of the band’s upcoming fourth album set to drop on February 18, 2022. Released on December 14, this tune sounds very classic rock. I find it great to see contemporary bands embrace a genre that has often been called dead. Reminds me a bit of AC/DC!

Austin Meade/Loser Mentality

I hardly could find any public information on Texas rock guitarist and vocalist Austin Meade. Not even his own website includes a bio! According to his Apple Music mini-profile, he cranks out twangy hard-rock albums like 2021’s Black Sheep that boast growling riffs and an outlaw swagger that would make Tyler Childers proud. Wikipedia describes Childers as an American singer-songwriter who blends neotraditional country, bluegrass and folk. I guess this shall suffice. Loser Mentality is Meade’s new single, released on December 9. It was co-written by him and David James Willie. I like it!

Superchunk/Endless Summer

Superchunk are an indie rock band from Chapel Hill, N.C., which were formed in 1989. Their members include Mac McCaughan (vocals, guitar), who I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment this September; Jim Wilbur (guitar), Laura Ballance (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums). Since the release of their eponymous debut album in September 1990, 10 additional records have come out. Endless Summer is a track from Superchunk’s upcoming 12th studio album, Wild Loneliness, scheduled for February 25, 2022. Credited to the entire group, the melodic rock tune was released on December 7 – nice!

Here’s a playlist that includes the above tunes.

Once again, to those celebrating, Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us, and this means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly released music. All featured tracks in this post appear on releases that came out yesterday (September 24). Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Third Eye Blind/Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen

Third Eye Blind are an alternative rock band founded in San Francisco in 1993. In the early 1990s, singer-songwriter and guitarist Stephan Jenkins set out to start the group. He worked on early material with bassist Jason Slater that resulted in the band’s first demo. In their early years, Third Eye Blind experienced frequent line-up changes. After Slater’s departure, guitarist Kevin Cadogan joined with whom Jenkins developed a songwriting partnership. In June 1996, the group signed with Elektra Records. Despite significant challenges, Third Eye Blind’s eponymous debut album finally appeared in April 1997. It reached no. 25 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, also charted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has sold more than six million copies, becoming the band’s best-selling album to date. Third Blind Eye have since since released six additional records including their latest, Our Bande Apart. Here’s the nice opener Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen penned by Jenkins who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s remaining tracks.

Jesse Malin/Greener Pastures

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jesse Malin started his career in 1980 when he was only 12 years old as frontman of New York hardcore group Heart Attack. In 1991, he co-founded D Generation, a glam punk band, in which he continues to perform as lead vocalist to this day. After the group’s break-up in 1999 (they reunited in 2011), Malin launched a solo career. Influenced by Neil Young, Steve Earle and Tom Waits, he changed his sound. His solo debut The Fine Art of Self-Destruction first came out in the UK in October 2002 before it appeared in the U.S. in January 2003. Eight additional solo albums by Malin have since been released. Here’s Greener Pastures, a beautiful tune from Malin’s new Americana-oriented album Sad and Beautiful World.

Mac McCaughan/The Sound of Yourself

According to his profile on Apple Music, Mac McCaughan wears multiple hats. He is a co-founder of the seminal indie band Superchunk, founder and leader of Portastatic, a former member of Seam and Go Back Snowball, and co-owner of Merge Records, one of America’s most successful and influential independent labels. Despite his success, McCaughan has strayed little from his punk rock principles in terms of both music and business, and after more than 25 years of making records, he opted to launch a belated solo career in 2015 with the release of the synthy Non-Believers...While Superchunk continued releasing albums of the high-energy fuzz pop they were known for, McCaughan furthered his deepening fascination with synth sounds, collaborating with ambient harpist Mary Lattimore on a series of improvisations that was released in 2019 as the New Rain Duets album by the Three Lobed label. This brings me to his latest solo release, The Sound of Yourself. Here’s the title track. I like it!

Ringo Starr/Let’s Change the World

Only six months after Zoom In, Ringo Starr is out with another EP, Change the World. Of course, I couldn’t ignore it! Just like the previous EP, the four tracks were recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West studio, according to a recent announcement on his website. “I’ve been saying I only want to release EPs at this point and this is the next one,” he commented. “What a blessing it’s been during this year to have a studio here at home and be able to collaborate with so many great musicians, some I’ve worked with before and some new friends.” Guest artists include Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather, both from Toto, as well as Joe Walsh and Nathan East, among others. Here’s the title track co-written by Williams and Lukather. Backing vocals were provided by Amy Keys, Zelma Davis, Billy Valentine and Darryl Phinnessee. Let’s Change the World perfectly fits the hope and optimism Ringo Starr continues to radiate at age 81 – I just love the man!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; YouTube