By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
To start with, Son Volt is back together! In the years since Uncle Tupelo's two main songwriters split up, an odd flip-flop has transpired. Most people assumed in the beginning that Jay Farrar and his Son Volt would go on to claim Tupelo's mantle of greatness, while Jeff Tweedy and his little band called Wilco would have the impact of a fart in a hurricane. See Randall Roberts' review of Wilco at the Fox Theatre in our September 22 issue for more on post-Tupelo expectations. Also, see that Wilco just played the Fox for how much expectations matter.
It'd be nice if I could write about Son Volt without immediately getting into a conversation about Wilco. Even on Farrar's allmusic.com bio page, the photo has Jay posing with Jeff.
The press release I received announcing Son Volt's re-formation didn't mention Wilco at all; go figure. And Jay's not doing interviews about the band just yet, which is probably for the best -- every time the interviewer would begin to utter a word that starts with the letter "w," Jay'd get all tense.
Can we give the man a break? It's not like Jay was Andrew Ridgeley to Tweedy's George Michael. (Every day with a Wham! reference is a good day.) If anything he's Hüsker Dü's Grant Hart to Tweedy's Bob Mould: a vastly talented man who got left behind in a critical whirlwind.
In deference to Farrar, who is entitled to be sick as hell about hearing about Wilco and Tweedy (so am I), let's talk about Son Volt as though Tweedy is currently employed as a dishwasher at Cicero's. Let's start over.
Son Volt is back together! The band never officially broke up, but Jay Farrar's seminal alt-country ensemble, which rose from the ashes of the even-more-seminal Uncle Tupelo in 1994, hasn't put out an album since 1998's awesome Wide Swing Tremolo. Many critics felt the band was treading water then, but some of the songs, like "Medicine Hat" and "Dead Man's Clothes," were as dark and gorgeous as just about anything Farrar wrote in Tupelo. Besides, didn't Tupelo's whole appeal stem from the fact that they were neo-traditionalists? It's alt-country, for heaven's sake. Rootsy. Raw. Emotionally honest and clear. It's not like we were asking for ten-minute guitar freakouts or pop soundscapes. Brian Wilson worship has no place in the genre. Leave that stuff to the druggies and let Farrar bring us the roots-rock.
Let's go heavy on the rock, though. Farrar's last solo studio album, Terroir Blues, was a bit dour, even for hardcore fans. And this year's live album, Stone, Steel & Bright Lights, was made up of post-Son Volt tunes that were acceptable, but every time Jay sticks to his later works, his earlier songwriting efforts loom in the room like an elephant. The knowledge that he could bring down the house immediately by playing "Anodyne" must be difficult to ignore. And the fact that people would rather see a re-formation of his other band must be a downer.
Jay always was the sad-faced man, but he ought to be able to find something to be happy about. Alt-country fans still love him, and just by clearing his throat he once again helms the most acclaimed band in St. Louis. Son Volt hasn't got a label right now, but we assume that that will change in short order. Who wouldn't sign Son Volt?
Smile, Jay! At least you're not washing dishes at Cicero's like former bandmate Jeff Tweedy. Remember that guy? No? Neither do we.
Speaking of trying to remember people, remember Nelly? You probably do. Our fair city's favorite cuddlethug has the top two spots on the Billboard album chart right now (Suit and Sweat, respectively). It's the first two-album-by-the-same-artist combo to tops the charts since Guns N' Roses. And all of these mentions of Guns N' Roses in every article written about him ought to be scaring the bejeezus out of Nelly right about now. Two words: Axl Rose. Let's hope that ten years from now we won't be seeing an overweight Nelly with a bunch of "new" St. Lunatics (all of whom come from Cleveland) making an ass monkey of himself.
With these albums, Nelly's clearly making a play for the big-big time. For one thing, he's not just sticking to music mags for publicity. Did you see Pin-Up Bowl mentioned in Time's Nelly write-up? Did you see Nelly talking about his abs in Men's Health? Well, whatever sells, right?
So the critically acclaimed Son Volt is back together, and Nelly is selling discs like tongue depressors at a bulimics' convention. Obviously St. Louis has something going on for it right now, and Columbia Records will be damned if they're sitting on the sidelines. The media giant has signed St. Charles' the Adored to its roster, hoping for the type of success Island scored with St. Charles' last major-label act, Greenwheel.