Some music just stays in the background. And some music is destined to accompany you through life and help explain life itself.
Jesse came into World Records a few weeks ago. He looked mid-40s. He had a junior-high son with him. “I need tickets to Son Volt. (Long pause) Back in 1995 I was in the Navy. I had to drive from here to my duty station in Virginia. I had that first Son Volt cassette, and listened to it the whole way, over and over.”
My brother-in-law is a university professor of American studies in Krakow, Poland. When he heard that Son Volt was coming to World Records, he texted, “That was the winter of ’95–’96. Bad breakup with a girlfriend. I drove across country to West Virginia to start grad school, listening to that Son Volt album, ‘Trace.’”
I mailed that same CD to his sister, who lived near Seattle back then. After her stereo speakers knew it by heart, she shared it with her friend who has an alt-Americana radio show. The first song on the album has been his show’s intro music ever since:
"May the wind take your troubles away
Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel,
May the wind take your troubles away
Trying to make it far enough, to the next time zone
Few and far between past the midnight hour
Never feel alone, you're really not alone."
Jay Farrar grew up in little Belleville, Ill., and started his band Son Volt in 1994, after the fiery breakup of Uncle Tupelo, a band he co-founded in 1987. Uncle Tupelo had released four albums over their seven-year stretch, had modest commercial success, and a truckload of critical acclaim for their songs about working class Middle America and music that nodded to Hank Williams Sr., the Carter Family and … punk rock. Music historians, recording artists and fans regard Uncle Tupelo as herald of the Americana genre that blends roots rock, blues, and country into a stew of genuine honest music that close to the ground people can identify with.
Farrar broke out with Son Volt to continue along this artistic path with songs that aren’t about politics, as much as they are about how regular people live their lives impacted by politics as well as other forces too big to avoid. Son Volt is touring on its latest album, "Union," full of songs of hope that seek to remind people not only of the price paid for, and the shared experience of democracy, but also the role of music in bringing people together, especially in a time when the constant chatter seems focused on divisions.
If you’ve ever had a great time with an old friend, knowing full well that you don’t vote the same, and don’t watch the same news channel, that beautiful place you have in common is where you will find Son Volt — big guitars, jeans, and a love of what we share. Son Volt’s new album is a reminder that what we share, a heritage built on shared service and shared sacrifice, is a wonderful, challenging life when based on those same essential motivations.
Oh yeah. Great music matters. Oh yes it does!