Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Here for now, transient tomorrow

#15 Son Volt, Trace (Warner Bros., 1995)

Trust me, I know that of Uncle Tupelo’s two children (nephews?), Wilco is the more accomplished one. And yes, Wilco’s music has been more interesting, more of a cultural achievement. Son Volt jumped out to a more auspicious beginning, with Trace coming out the same time as the lukewarm A.M. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, though, caught up to and jumped ahead Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, and has become the boy who has moved from the rural lands of alt-country to the avant-garde city (the cover photo of YHF is not insignificant in this respect) to become a quiet man, living in tents. Farrar remains the more gauche man of the field, the (to spell it out) Esau to Tweedy’s Jacob. And we all know who ended up having a nation named after him.

I surely can’t be the only one out there who has sympathy for the earthier and less crafty older brother. I know that there is probably few genres more passé at this moment than No Depression roots rock, and Wilco’s experiments in moving beyond that form have been wildly successful, but it really a crime to refrain from innovation with genre, especially when you absolutely nail it? And Trace may a genre record, but there aren’t many better, in my opinion. Wilco may have my head, but Son Volt has my heart, or better, my gut – so, can you guess which one of the two appears on my top 25?

Even though Son Volt’s entire output is underrated (and thinking about this list finally drove me to pay attention to Okemah and the Melody of Riot, which I bought last year and listened to once, and it’s pretty solid, too), they set themselves up for failure by making the best song of their entire catalog the first track of their first album. “Windfall,” with its simple and effective chorus, “may the wind take your troubles away,” is an ideal evocation of the American myth of the open road. For me, Trace is one of the few good memories of a summer job in 1995 which required me to drive 500 miles a week and stay in cheap hotels from Sunday to Thursday (long story … no, short story, but boring). I spent many many hours on empty Montana two-lanes hoping for my troubles to be taken away. The wind never did that, of course, but the song and this album helped.


Chadegg said...

One small quibble re. your biblical analogy. Both Esau and Jacob had a nation named after them, sucka! Edom may have died as a people group, but it lives on in my heart.

Chad (first time poster, long-time lurker)

Sean B said...

Good catch - my bad. I was thinking about writing "Modern nation state and/or World Religion" instead of "nation," but it didn't scan as well.

Big Cougar said...

You guys read the Bible?!? That's hilarious!

Trace was my first introduction to the world of Uncle T and the JJs and it will always hold a special place for that reason. I remember hearing "Drown" on the radio when I was in high school and really liking it. When I got the record in college, "Windfall" sealed the deal for me. Sarah and I even had it on our wedding reception mix CD, along with the Beach Boys, REM, Daniel Amos, and the Backstreet Boys. Oh wait, that last one was at ATrain's wedding...sucka!

ATrain said...

standing outside the now-defunct "Be Here Now" in Asheville, circa 1998...dammit, why did we think we could come to a Son Volt show without buying tickets??

still one of my favorite shows ever, if only for the euphoria of squeezing in at the last minute

Big Cougar said...

Even more amazing that night was the fact that you and I spent at least two hours before the show at a McDonald's in Asheville quizzing each other on the Westminster catechism.

For those who might assume we were ridiculously pious let it be said that memorizing the catchism at our undergrad, as well as writing a paper about it, held a meaty cash prize of a 1000 bones. It was not piety but raw greed that drove such theological devotion on the part of so many upperclassmen. I will say, though, that the night of the show our chief end was to glorify the Son (Volt) and enjoy them forever.

ATrain said...

well, maybe YOU did it for the filthy lucre...I considered the money to be an unfortunate distraction from my higher goal of a deeper understanding of Reformed theology.

R.C. Sproul III