Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Son Volt (1995)

Scott and I were in agreement that Jay Farrar was our favorite of the co-leaders of Uncle Tupelo, and their respective post-UT albums did nothing but reinforce these opinions. Wilco's A.M. was very good, but Son Volt's Trace was a masterpiece. We first heard it when the Varnaline boys dropped by, passing through Albany while on tour. Anders had a cassette with him, and I remember the album's opener, "Windfall", gave me goosebumps upon my first listen. Still in my amateur homebrewing days back then, I named one of my recipes Windfall Novemberfest. A maltier and hoppier version of the Octoberfest style, the beer's slogan was inspired by the lyric "May the wind take your troubles away".

That fall, I went on a solo vacation to Burlington, VT, where my sister and her family were living, followed by a couple nights of camping in Acadia National Park and a brief visit to Scott's family on Cape Cod, but made sure to return to Albany in time to see Son Volt at Bogie's. This was probably the first of many shows for me where my fandom of obscure bands was rewarded by allowing them to be seen at such small venues. The biggest reward, of course, was sharing a few words with drummer Mike Heidorn, while using the urinal next to him during one of the songs he didn't play on. Years later, the double edged sword of witnessing the rise in popularity of some of our favorite artists would be a common topic of conversation between me and Len.

Another song on Trace would also come to have special meaning to me. Hearing "Drown" always pulled me out of a bad mood, and also became my anthem for saying "fuck you" to past regrets. One of the many nights that Scott and I spent drinking and playing pool on Lark Street was marked by one of those moments. Still lamenting "the one that got away", Scott tried to coach me to learn and move on, but it was Jay Farrar who convinced me of this as he sang the simple but poignant, "When in doubt move on, no need to sort it out". It was that night that I made my decision to leave Albany.

In hindsight, Trace's follow up, Straightaways, is one of Son Volt's weakers efforts, but I was still so enamored that I had another goosebump moment upon first hearing it. It was at Rock Bottom Records in Portsmouth, NH, and I was excited because both Son Volt's and The Jayhawks' new ones were coming out on the same day. Long before franchised music stores developed more sophisticated methods, Rock Bottom had a rack of new CDs and a couple of portable CD players with cheap headphones on which customers could preview albums before buying them. Of course, I bought both of those CDs that day, and although I was initially disappointed in the direction The Jayhawks were going with Sound of Lies, I came to realize it was a much better record than Straightaways.

After 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo, Son Volt essentially disbanded. Seven years later, they reformed for Okemah and the Melody of Riot, and have since followed that up with this year's effort, The Search. I consider these past two records to be better than their two post-Trace 90's albums. Despite this, it's a completely different band, other than Jay Farrar, of course, and nothing could ever feel as special as the 90's edition of Son Volt, the first alt-country band with whom I was on board from day one.

No comments:

Post a Comment