Son Volt – Trace (Deluxe Edition) (review)

Son Volt – Trace (Deluxe Edition) (Rhino / Warner Brothers) review

An alt-country masterpiece turns 20

Out of the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, leader Jay Farrar formed Son Volt. Their debut from 1995, Trace, made good on the promise of his former band. That album has been remastered and expanded, featuring demos and live tracks, plus extensive liner notes from Farrar himself.

Trace manages to both rock harder, and be more immediate than anything Uncle Tupelo put on tape. Credit goes to producer Brian Paulson, who wraps everything in a warmth that makes songs like “Ten Second News” sound like they’re being performed in your living room. Another key addition is Eric Heywood, who adds a yearning, pedal steel to much of the album, so you can hear the countryside rolling by on songs like “Windfall” or “Tear-Stained Eye.”

The guitar sound is incredibly raw on the rockers like “Route” and the hit single, “Drown.” And, there’s a reason – Farrar jimmy-rigged an old Webster-Chicago wire recorder speaker as a makeshift guitar amp (it’s pictured on the cover of the album).

Disc one is augmented by eight of the album’s songs in demo form. It’s interesting to hear blistering rockers like “Route” and “Live Free” stripped down acoustically, yet “Drown” featured distorted guitar, even in the very early stages.

Disc two showcases a concert recorded at the legendary Bottom Line in February of 1996, proving that the band had become very tight. Besides performing virtually the entire Trace record, the band delves into several Uncle Tupelo nuggets, including “Anodyne” and “Chickamauga.”

The set’s booklet features an essay from No Depression editor Peter Blackstock, as well as track-by-track annotation from Farrar.

While many albums from the mid-Nineties are hopelessly dated, Trace sounds as good as the day it was released. It also makes a fantastic road trip record. —Tony Peters