Review: ‘Son Volt’

A pure delight on the Warners record "Trace" and a sparked sketch of unabashed Americana in its sold-out concert, Son Volt balances the potential schizophrenia of forceful rock 'n' roll and sweet, lilting country. It's a literal sonic map of the highways that rise alongthe Mississippi River as well as the sprawling farmland broken up only by those vestiges of the Midwestern industrial age, cities that seemingly rise out of nowhere.

A pure delight on the Warners record “Trace” and a sparked sketch of unabashed Americana in its sold-out concert, Son Volt balances the potential schizophrenia of forceful rock ‘n’ roll and sweet, lilting country. It’s a literal sonic map of the highways that rise alongthe Mississippi River as well as the sprawling farmland broken up only by those vestiges of the Midwestern industrial age, cities that seemingly rise out of nowhere.

Farrar, the brooding soul of Tupelo, was mumbling and still during Son Volt’s 90-minute set, which included an encore appearance by roots-rock godfather Doug Sahm. The Boquist brothers provided most of the visual stimulation and even that was musical; guitarist and fiddler Dave performed as if possessed, articulating each note with passion and meaning. Drummer Jim Boquist was a master of control whose pitch and volume rose and dropped with impeccable precision.

Forsaking the blend of approaches on “Trace,” Son Volt divided its main set into three parts, sandwiching a lengthy acoustic chunk with fierce electric attacks. Encores were more balanced, blending the spirited two-part harmonies of Farrar and bassist Mike Heidorn with the chug-a-lug of trucking songs and the crunch of the Minneapolis indie sound of the mid-’80s. In some ways it’s the Flying Burrito Brothers all over again and in a more perfect world, “Tear Stained Eye” and “Windfall” would be under consideration for country songs of the year. But, with the equal dose of confidence and muscle that it takes to make it a rock setting, Son Volt is one of the hottest new acts of 1995.

Son Volt

(Troubadour; 450 seats; $ 12)

Production

Presented inhouse. Reviewed Dec. 4, 1995. Given all the road songs that have been neat anchors of country and rock 'n' roll for decades, it's surprising Jay Farrar's take on the familiar subject sounds so fresh. Yet it's easy to visualize the road Farrar details in song for anyone who has made the New Orleans-St. Louis-Minneapolis trek he made while turning Son Volt into a worthy -- if not superior -- successor to his former band, Uncle Tupelo. While co-Uncle Jeff Tweedy has snared most of the ink for his Wilco band, Son Volt is the true find in this breakup.

Cast

Band: Jay Farrar, Mike Heidorn, Jim Boquist, Dave Boquist.
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