A GUEST POSTING by HYBRID SOC PROF
LONG INTRO, BEWARE:
I remember when The Washington Squares album came out (shades of my parents’ Kingston Trio records!), and soon thereafter Michelle Shocked released The Texas Campfire Tapes… wait, what?! Punks gone folk? How can that be? And this was after the confused adoration I’d felt when Meat Puppets II was released and my easy love of Jason and the Scorchers’ first LP, Fervor… While I was convinced by newspaper and magazine reviewers that Steve Earle’s Guitar Town was cool country music and Dwight Yoakum’s, Guitar, Cadillacs, etc., etc. was enough of a throwback to an prior, authentic time to be OK (and, heck, he hung out with the guys from Los Lobos!), I really didn’t understand very much about the meaning of DIY in the mid-80s.
Given who I was and when I came of age, I thought the The Long Ryders, Lone Justice and Green on Red were harkening back to the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield… I didn’t know that those bands were also recalling to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and Leadbelly. It took until the BBC/PBS History of Rock ‘n’ Roll series for me to begin to understand that the Blues, Jazz, Country, Folk, Rock, Soul, Funk, and Punk were all DIY traditions and any and every permutation and combination of them – particularly after the rise of what Horkheimer and Adorno called The Culture Industry in the 1930s – were forms of bottom up resistance to injustice, to power, to manufactured tastes, and more.
All of this is to say that, by the time I started grad school in 1987 and grabbed a spot on the university radio station, I was almost ready to understand what the band Uncle Tupelo was up to as they melded the punk sensibility of the Minutemen with the Appalachian folk of the Carter Family on their 1990 LP, No Depression. A lot of people trace the start of Alt-Country/Alt-folk to that record, but that ends up making no sense given the history above – much less the prior existence of the Pogues, Mekons and (for all that I can’t listen to them) Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Whatever it signaled, however, No Depression is a great record – and I really like everything Uncle Tupelo released.
Which made it a real disappointment when the band split up…. But Jeff Tweedy quickly formed Wilco and released A.M. and Jay Farrar put Son Volt together and released Trace. I loved both but Son Volt more and, as with a lot of Uncle Tupelo fans, felt half-obliged to choose one to prefer, one camp to side with… Jeff or/vs. Jay. Idiocy, I know, but fandom can be stupid and irrational. You see, Tweedy and his songs always leaned a little more towards pop and Farrar’s always tilted to pain… and Farrar has a voice like no other, both lyrically and sonically. I’m the moody artsy political one and my wife’s the dancing pop fun one when it comes to music… I lean Son Volt, she leans Wilco.
While Wilco stayed the course with country/folk influenced tunes for about a record and a half, Son Volt doubled down on it, sometimes a little too experimentally, and at different points getting a little stale, but always deep in the muck. Each has done a turn with the Woody Guthrie archives, Tweedy and Wilco with Billy Bragg, on the Mermaid Avenue discs, and Farrar with Will Johnson, Anders Parker and “Yim Yames”, on New Multitudes. I can’t recommend those five CDs enough.
But this was supposed to be about Son Volt…and so here’s some great music (It’s 11, rather than 10 cuts because of the short instrumental intro.)
1. Son Volt – Chanty (from Wide Swing Tremelo, 1998)
2. Son Volt – Midnight (from Notes of Blue, 2017)
3. Jay Farrar – Drain (from Sebastol, 2001)
4. Son Volt – Medicine Hat (from Wide Swing Tremelo, 1998)
5. Son Volt – Lookin’ At the World Through A Windshield (from Rig Rock Deluxe (A Musical Salute to The American Truck Driver, compilation album, 1996)
6. Son Volt – When The Wheels Don’t Move (from American Central Dust, 2009)
7. Son Volt – Threads and Steel (from Notes of Blue, 2017)
8. Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker and Yim Yames – Jake Walk Blues (from New Multitudes, 2012)
9. Son Volt – Ten Second News (from Trace, 1995)
10. Son Volt – Left A Slide (from Straigtaways, 1997)
11. Son Volt – Windfall (from Trace, 1995)
My sense is that Wilco is well-enough known that they may not need an Imaginary Album, but Uncle Tupelo probably does. We’ll see what I can do.