Son Volt scorches
The Paradise, Boston, May 8, 1996
BOSTON - Son Volt probably has been one of the more unlikely musical success stories during the past year.
Born out of the ashes of the seminal band Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt managed to rise to the top of the so-called alternative or insurgent country field with their debut album of last year, "Trace" and airplay, mainly on rock radio, with the song "Drown."
Not that the alt country side of country is such a big field, but it is a growing one eschewing the commercialism of Hot New Country. Son Volt, led by former Uncle Tupelo co-leader Jay Farrar, mixes a country rock sound with overtones of Neil Young and The Byrds and a harder, more rock-oriented edge.
And while its fans are devout, could the quartet deliver the goods showing why they are revered?
The answer, based on a 90-minute set, was a solid yes.
This was a night where the emphasis was on the music - the musicianship and quality of the songs.
And it is here that Son Volt excelled. The early part of the concert placed Son Volt (the name stemmed from a mixture of the record labels, Sun and Volt) more squarely in the rock vein.
Farrar's vocal adeptness was evident from "Live Free," the second song of the evening. What sets Farrar apart is the expressiveness of his voice. Often singing with his eyes closed, that was no faux quality. Instead, he simply gets into the songs using his voice to set the mood.
"Route" mixed musical muscle, in part due to bassist Jim Boquist, with strong backing vocals.
The rocking side of the band quickly changed with "Windfall" a few songs later. The lead-off track from "Trace," the song smartly mixes Farrar's winsome vocals with a spare sounding country sound. Farrar switched from electric to acoustic, while Dave Boquist (Jim's brother) played fiddle, which spearehead the song along with pedal steel from guest Eric Haywood.
From here, Son Volt clearly was in the country side of its music, hitting the mark time and again. "Ten Second News," with Boquist on lap steel, captured the sad quality of the song.
This was clearly a concert based on the music and songcraft. Drummer Mike Heidorn and Boquist's brother Dave were no slouches either.
Son Volt has a well-deserved reputation for not having much personality in concert. Farrar had little to say beyond a few "thank yous" and finally cracked a smile or two near the end. And one had to smile with the band's crack version of Young'ds "Downtown," where they really cooked. Opener Gillian Welch and her guitarist sidekick David Rawlings came out to help with vocals.
If this band hadpersonality, Son Volt would be dangerous. Fortunately, their music deservedly has propelled them to the fore of a burgeoning country scene.
Welch opened the show with a well-done 45-minute show, showcasing songs from her debut. Welch, who lived in Boston for a few years, offered a spare sound with quality vocals. Rawlings added depth to the country-edged songs with his backing vocals and fine guitar work.
Welch, who even warranted an encore, is a quality musician who bears watching.