Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pssst: This one sounds like heaven

I don't know why, but I always feel I must take sides when it comes to discussions of Jay Farrar vs. Jeff Tweedy, Son Volt vs. Wilco. This wouldn't have been necessary, of course, had Uncle Tupelo stayed together as a band. That's an alt-tragedy we had no control over.

The split did allow us the opportunity to watch the progression of two great songwriters and musicians, and view the development of two terrific splinter bands. I suppose you could call that addition by subtraction.

But I must choose sides, so I'll say it now: I'm with Farrar, who was the unquestioned leader and mastermind of UT's trail-blazing sound. I need only Exhibit A to make my point: "Trace'', the first album Farrar produced with Son Volt after the the split-up of UT, is one of the favorites in my collection and has never been topped by either of the groups' follow-up efforts.

The occasional PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) is meant to uncover music that some of you might have missed and should consider putting your ears to, but there are times when it is simply an acknowledgement of brilliant work. "Trace'' is one of those rare, timeless albums that you never get tired of listening to. Take a breezy ride with some lyrics from "Wind'':

Switching it over to AM
Searching for a truer sound
Can't recall the call letters
Steel guitar and settle down
Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana
It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven

Jay Farrar may not have been built for the stage (as a previous poster recently pointed out). But his sturdy guitar playing, pain-inflected baritone warble and rich heartland lyrics kick the hell out of most everything I've heard since 1995, when "Trace'' was released.

May the wind take your troubles away...

1 comment:

  1. Here goes ...

    I agree with the author here that the breakup of UT was a shame. Of course, the creative tension that led to the creation of an album like "Anodyne," my personal fave, was bound to be ultimately destructive.

    Since the split, "Trace" is hands down the best work either Farrar or Tweedy has done. I cannot to this day put it in the CD player while driving and not sing along with "Windfall," Ten Second News," Tear-Stained Eye," Too Early," etc., etc. As a singer and songwriter, I normally side with Farrar, but taking "Trace" out of the mix, Tweedy has had a more successful post-UT career. From an artistic standpoint, I don't even think it's close. Of course, some of the genre-stretching Tweedy has done is unlistenable, IMO, but I give him props for pushing the boundaries and not relying on a comfortable formula, which I think has been Farrar's stumbling block. Then again, after "Trace," it was almost inevitable he would become a victim of his own success. I'm not sure that can be topped. Wilco tuned it down quite a bit for their last album, and while I know Tweedy despises the "alt-country pioneer" label and will likely never return to his UT roots, I would love to see Wilco get "back home" a little more in the future with some folk rock, similar to Mermaid Ave. They absolutely nailed much of the Woody Guthrie stuff (If there's a better upbeat sing-along song than "California Stars," I haven't heard it). And maybe, if that were to occur, it would spur Farrar to break out of the rut he seems to be in.