The Archives : Son Volt "Wide Swing Tremolo" (1998)

When Jay Farrar bid farewell to Uncle Tupelo in the spring of 1994, most onlookers and nerds (see: this blog and everything I've done daily since 1992 or so) predicted that Jay Farrar's post-UT career would easily outshine that of his suddenly-former bandmate Jeff Tweedy. Although opinions still differ on that front, Farrar's first four years outside of Uncle Tupelo were somewhat remarkable. His new band, Son Volt, produced one of the finest americana albums ever with 1995's Trace. 1997's Straightwaways was somewhat of a sequel to Trace with many moments that almost tapped the greatness of its predecessor.

With his creative juices still running at a furious pace, Son Volt tossed us Wide Swing Tremolo in 1998, a record that was immediately met with a bit of a collective raised eyebrow. Fans were used to, and well, in love with, Farrar's perfected sound that married Gram Parsons to Neil Young's Comes a Time. It was a simple sound, but honed and beautiful in its writing. He was William Faulkner with chops, a voice almost as deep as Waits and a sensibility that brought on chills. But Wide Swing Tremolo was something very different. The first track, "Straightface," is an in-your-face rocker, somewhat akin to Young's move to the Crazy Horse-era. And then comes "Driving the View," perhaps the greatest driving song ever written. "From different levels, just pieces together, never had a fall, that didn't burn with laughter" opens the track accompanied by blazing guitars. This is an epic song, one that grabs every piece of the listener and elicits well, euphoria. The up-tempo high-volt numbers continue with "Question," "Medicine Hat," "Flow," and "Right on Through." But interspersed are the traditional and stripped-down gems that his fans simply couldn't do without. "Hanging Blue Side" is a standout, but it's clear that Farrar had little interest in slowing down on this record. And he doesn't.

Son Volt @ The Paradise, Boston, 1995

Jay Farrar's legacy will likely be that of one of the better songwriters of the 1990s, and of course, one of the forefathers of the contemporary movement. But often lost in that sweeping overview is Wide Swing Tremolo, a record that not only reveals Farrar at his core, but represents his finest and most poignant writing to date.