Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi The Son Also Rises

By Brendan Doherty

OCTOBER 26, 1998:  Critical acclaim is not new to Son Volt's principal singer/songwriter Jay Farrar. His band's debut, Trace, was deemed a critical masterpiece. But when people start calling him the Lennon of the Americana musical movement, he believes things are getting out of hand, including the expectations of grandeur placed on any of his records. And he gets uncharacteristically vocal. "Calling me the Lennon of Americana music, or Jeff Tweedy (his former bandmate in Uncle Tupelo, now singer of Wilco) the McCartney--well, that doesn't do justice to the Beatles," says Farrar, 31. "Or to me."

While not one of the Beatles, it would be difficult to underplay the musical influence of the soft-spoken singer with stringy hair, a baby face and mutton-chop sideburns. Farrar's 11 new songs on Wide Swing Tremolo, the band's third album, find them sounding refreshed and assured, even upbeat.

Like with previous efforts, more than a few fans have come to rest on his earthy voice and evocative folk-country tunes with an edge. Wide Swing Tremolo is a Book of Revelations--like a litany of hard-to-read predictions rife with contradiction. "The name of the record was taken from an old Gibson amplifier catalog," says Farrar. "We think it fits."

Farrar's songs have influenced other songwriters, as well as made cultish fans. Farrar has been at the front of two of the best-selling and influential bands on mainstream music's periphery--Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo. Farrar is, along with his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy, what some are calling the leaders of a back-to-roots "Americana" movement in music, though they will not claim it.

"The whole movement thing is all news to me," says Farrar. "You're in a band doing what you do, and suddenly people inform you that you're part of a movement, and I never wanted that. I just wanted to create and not have labels thrown at you describing what you are. Scotty Moore (guitarist for Elvis Presley's earliest band) was doing it all before anybody," says Farrar. "Within a certain realm, people who are primarily doing rock and getting interested in country will find all of this out."

What listeners can recognize above the din of hype is the ability of Farrar to sing about common dilemmas in an uncommon way. Uncle Tupelo's music poured like a river in the fault line between the musical continents of punk rock and country. For seven years, the band toured and played with two very different approaches. Tweedy sang with lilting melodies about love and loss, Farrar sang angrily about small-town life with smoldering melancholy, and the band swung between driving rock on electric guitars to folk music played on acoustic guitars.

By the time Uncle Tupelo released its major label debut, 1993's Anodyne, they had become a thriving cult band. The differences between the songwriters on the record were as stark as any late period Beatles' efforts. The well loved band with two leaders was hard to keep together, and Farrar left in 1993. Tweedy quickly reformed the musicians from the Anodyne session into Wilco.

"I had become the third man out against the manager and Jeff," says Farrar. "We were good at the art of compromise, but you reach a certain part where that isn't good anymore. I was saddened by the breakup, I guess," Farrar says. "It took me a while to get it together and find people to work with. I spent a couple of months after the breakup just holed up and writing songs." When he put another band together, he called former Tupelo drummer Mike Heidhorn and drafted two brothers, bassist Dave and guitar/fiddle/banjo player Jim Boquist.

And while chat groups plotted out theoretical Uncle Tupelo records from the respective Wilco and Son Volt records, their output makes it more improbable that Farrar and Tweedy were ever in the same band. Being There, Wilco's recent release, is a step further toward '70s guitar rock, away from the rootsy sound of Son Volt, a band that continues to float down Farrar's creative river.

"You haven't heard the last from me," Farrar says. "I'll put these out as long as I can, trend or no trend."

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