Son Volt | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The sound of Trace, the first release from Jay Farrar's Son Volt, is the sound of the other shoe dropping on the demise of Uncle Tupelo. Tupelo fans--whose devotion to the country-rock ensemble led by Farrar and Jeff Tweedy made up for their lack of numbers---seemed partial to Farrar's big broad voice and passionate, mournful songs. But Tweedy, whose band Wilco bowed earlier this year, surprised with dense and deep songwriting and an unexpected pop openness. What you get with Son Volt, by contrast, is the classic Tupelo sound---a deep devotion to antediluvian American folk and country conveyed most tellingly by that voice and a lonesome-sounding guitar or violin. The record doesn't refuse to rock: the trebly attack of songs like "Drown" and "Route" is reminiscent of the bashy splendor of the earliest Tupelo releases. But its overall feel is a stark and regretful one, with sentimentality ("Catching an all-night station / Somewhere in Louisiana / Sounds like 1963 / But for now it sounds like heaven") vying for dominance with mordancy ("Driving down sunny 44 highway / There's a beach there known for cancer"). Those who aren't connoisseurs of the sound Uncle Tupelo constructed may find this all contrarily nonmodern, almost didactic in its intents. Farrar's guilty on both counts. Just remember that the greatest American music generally and rock 'n' roll specifically is based on little else but people like him: fucked up true believers who can't or won't do anything else. The shows are the band's Chicago debut. Blue Mountain opens. Monday and Tuesday, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Daniel Corrigan.

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