The Upshot: Ragged and tattered, a weary reflective attempt at summing up a disenfranchised view from the perspective of those on the outside looking in, upon its initial release the album certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was affecting all the same, and even today it stands up as a clear Americana classic.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
If Uncle Tupelo sired the second coming of Americana, then its offspring, Wilco and Son Volt, allowed it to thrive. Yes, there were other bands that blazed the trail before — the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco chief among them — but when it came to stamping a niche in the burgeoning modern rock arena of the mid ‘90s, no one did more to bring Americana into the mainstream, the place where it’s found a home since.
Jay Farrar had been a prime mover in Uncle Tupelo, the band that gave a name to what became known as the No Depression movement, a handle borrowed from one of the group’s more prominent LPs. However when the band split, he and Jeff Tweedy, Uncle Tupelo’s other chief mainstay, parted company and set off in their individual directions. In truth, they were following parallel courses, and while Wilco continued to evolve and still remains a vital force today — albeit with a different calling — Son Volt prospered for only a short time, but still lent its influence in an equally significant way.
Volt was arguably the best of their lot, and while memories may be hazy about the impact in had at the time, this sterling reissue serves as a reminder of the timeless course it took. It was ragged and tattered, a weary reflective attempt at summing up a disenfranchised view from the perspective of those on the outside looking in. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was affecting all the same, and even today it stands up as a clear Americana classic. Songs such as “Windfall,” “Live Free” and a brilliant cover of Ron Wood’s “Mystifies Me” still stand out among a set list chock full of gems, but now, given add-ons in the forms of various demos and an entire second disc that captures an entire early performance, Volt is more essential than ever.
Son Volt may never have set out to reinvent country music, but after rising from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, it was inevitable that they’d put a modern spin on the traditional sounds they were attempting to emulate. While Tweedy and company took Wilco into wholly unlikely and strangely twisted directions, Farrar and company more or less kept their eye on the heartland and crafted songs more becoming of their Americana origins. The band’s extended hiatus in the late ‘90s, accompanied by Farrar’s indulgence in a solo career, suggested that Son Volt had milked those realms as much as possible, but their rebound, marked by a further string of successful albums, suggested the initial inspiration would remain intact for the duration. An exceptional effort then, it’s even more so now.
DOWNLOAD: “Windfall,” “Live Free,” “Mystifies Me”